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S.C. Future Makers aims to draw students into advanced manufacturing

Manufacturing
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State economic and education leaders gathered Wednesday at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies in Chapin to announce a partnership they hope will excite students and soon-to-be-workers while expanding the workforce pool for the manufacturing companies who may one day employ them.

Lewis Gossett, president and CEO of the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance, joined other state luminaries to tout the details of S.C. Future Makers, a public-private partnership that aims to match students who have an aptitude for technology with advanced manufacturing industries such as BMW and Boeing, where those skills can be put to lucrative use.

“The average wage in South Carolina is $37,000 a year,” Gossett said. “The average wage in manufacturing is $54,000.”

The program’s website offers research into the manufacturing industry — a field that has changed dramatically since the days of workers laboring in dusty mills. Students can also create profiles that detail traditionally available information, such as grade-point average, but allow would-be employers to delve deeper into special skills that make them a potentially good fit.

“It’s much like the evolution of South Carolina, and my family,” Gossett said. “They went from the fields to the manufacturing facilities, and they didn’t want their kids going back to the fields. Then they went from manufacturing to college to white-collar jobs and offices, and they didn’t want their kids going back to manufacturing. So we’ve got to break that (perception).”

Gossett said the Future Makers campaign, led by the manufacturers alliance in partnership with Mount Pleasant-based STEM Premier, also wants to bring business representatives to schools and take students on hands-on, educational tours of manufacturing facilities.

“As educators, we have to help our students find their passion,” said Molly Spearman, state superintendent of education. “Now that we’re producing these great students, we do have to work to connect them with the right job.”

SCfuturemakers.com features videos of five manufacturing companies with heavy local presences — Boeing, Bridgestone, BMW, engine maker MTU and marketing company Red Ventures. In the Boeing video, Gov. Nikki Haley takes a tour of the company’s gleaming North Charleston plant while she talks to a worker about her career, asking, “When you were growing up, did you ever think you would build airplanes?”

A goal of S.C. Future Makers is to more closely tailor present-day students’ interests to their future careers. Students from local high schools joined lawmakers and executives in Wednesday’s crowd, and award winners at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies stood before presentations detailing their work. Seniors Kayla Shine and Alexa Eyring, both 17, are applying for an intellectual patent for their adaptive spoon to aid people who have cerebral palsy.

“This had kind of sparked my interest in the field I want to study in,” Eyring said. “Next year I’ll be attending Duke University to study biomedical engineering.”

Stories like Eyring’s represent the future on display Wednesday.

“The people in the back row — this is about you,” Gossett said, gesturing to the high school students. “This is about the opportunities South Carolina will provide you in the future. You have to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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