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South Carolina’s Workforce Keeps Talent Flowing

Workforce development programs put state on leading edge of training

By Teree Caruthers on July 10, 2017

South Carolina
Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

Fueled by a responsive community and technical college system and a successful apprenticeship program, South Carolina’s workforce is one of the state’s strongest and most reliable assets for recruitment and expansion.

The readySC program, offered through the 16 members of the South Carolina Technical College System, provides customized workforce training for new and expanding businesses. The South Carolina Technical College System also oversees Apprenticeship Carolina, a program that helps companies, such as Barnwell-based Horsehead Corp., establish apprenticeship programs to help with workforce recruitment.

Diving Into the Talent Pool

The readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina programs were key components of the initial plant staffing and sustaining the continuing development of team members, says Eric Stroom, plant manager at the Barnwell County operation, which recycles zinc-bearing materials, including electric arc furnace dust generated by steel mills during the melting of recycled steel scrap. The company came to Barnwell County in 2008.

 “We find the South Carolina work force enthused and willing to learn and grow into expanded responsibilities,” Stroom says. “We have been very successful promoting from within, in part with supporting programs offered through Apprenticeship Carolina. We are proud of what we do, and the people who make it happen.”

Stroom says the South Carolina Department of Employment and Worforce as been a key partner, helping the company field applications and screen initial candidates. He says the company also coordinated workforce development efforts with the Lower Savanah River Council of Governments and recruited heavily from the SouthernCarolina Alliance’s Advanced Manufacturing Skills Training Program.

“These programs are credible and worthwhile. They have helped our operation in Barnwell to become recognized as the best in class, a world leader for the markets we serve,” Stroom says.

On-the-Job Training

Carla Whitlock, senior consultant for Apprenticeship Carolina, says the program was designed to ensure all employers in South Carolina receive assistance at no cost in creating demand-driven apprenticeship programs. Since 2007, the number of apprenticeship programs has increased from 90 to 802 and number of apprentices from 777 to more than 16,400.

“Employers see the benefits of apprenticeship – reduced turnover, improved productivity, enhanced quality and more. It’s an opportunity for companies to grow their own workforce. They can expand their pipeline of skilled workers by providing structured training and on-the-job mentoring through registered apprenticeship,” Whitlock says. “It is the perfect tool for transferring knowledge especially as many companies are experiencing a rise in retirements due to an aging workforce.”

Another organization benefiting from the Apprenticeship Carolina program is the South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson University. The Botanical Garden established a horticulture apprenticeship program for high school students. 

“It seemed like a great opportunity for us to draw on some of the best talent coming out of local high schools and career centers and potentially bring some of the best and brightest young students into our horticulture program here at Clemson in the future,” says Patrick McMillan, the botanical garden’s director. “It’s an incredible opportunity for these kids because if their career path takes them directly from high school into the workforce, they’ll come out of this with 1,500 hours of experience as an apprentice here working with horticulture projects and a certificate from the Department of Education.”

The Future of Manufacturing

Along the same lines, the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance partnered with several state agencies to develop SC FutureMakers, a program that introduces middle and high school students to careers tied to STEM – science, engineering, technology and math. The program began in 100 schools across the state, serving some 116,000 students.

“We’re connecting colleges and companies to talent at an earlier age in a way that’s never been done before,” says James Richter, marketing director for the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance.

Richter says the program’s partnership with STEM Premier allows students to build an online profile – like a digital resume – where they can express their career interests and display their skills.

“You may have a kid with a low GPA but who can take apart an engine and put it back together in a weekend. There are lots of companies that need someone with that kind of skill,” Richter says. “FutureMakers brings everything under one hood, and it’s a tremendous opportunity for students to learn about careers in manufacturing.”

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