If they come, can you build it? That is one of the primary questions businesses ask when considering whether to expand or relocate into a state. Industries want to know if the workforce has the technical training and skills needed for their company to succeed.
“Workforce development has always been the most important piece to a manufacturer,” says Will Williams, president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership, an economic development alliance that serves Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda counties. “We can have the best site with all the necessary infrastructure, but it won’t matter if we don’t have the most important thing, and that’s a good, trainable workforce.”
South Carolina has several resources focused on ensuring the state’s workforce remains attractive to industries, from the acclaimed 53-year old readySC training program to the new Operation Palmetto Employment initiative connecting military veterans with job openings.
“There is a focused strategy in the state of creating the most direct pipeline from companies to employers,” says Susan Pretulak, vice president of economic development at the SC Technical College System, which oversees readySC. “There are a number of ways we’re doing that, all of them focused on getting the right people into the right jobs at the right time. We are really helping companies from their entry into the state clear through to 100 percent productivity.”
The readySC program has been doing its part since 1961, making it one of the oldest workforce development initiatives in the U.S. In conjunction with the 16 members of the SC Technical College System, readySC develops detailed training programs tailored to meet a company’s specific workforce needs. This helps smooth the transition process for companies moving into South Carolina.
“When you locate new facilities to a state, there are so many unknowns. And readySC has always been able to take the unknowns out of the recruitment and training piece,” Pretulak says. “There’s no such thing as cookie-cutter for us. Each of our projects is unique. We work closely with the company to find projects that fit them and meet their needs in terms of getting up and ready for production.”
Creating a trained workforce is only half the issue. These workers and their special skills also need to be promoted to potential employers, making it easier for companies to find the right type of employees for their business.
One of the ways South Carolina is doing this is through implementation of the national WorkReady Communities program developed by ACT to measure the quality of a county’s workforce. South Carolina was one of four pilot states to initiate the program.
To receive a WorkReady designation, community leaders must demonstrate that they have a pipeline of job candidates with high-demand skills. Counties that do so receive a National Career Readiness Certificate, offered by ACT.
"It gives our county a way to highlight our accomplishments and let industry see that we do have the workforce they need when they get ready to come in and bring jobs to our community,” says Lynn Jones, adult education coordinator at Colleton County, which became the state’s third certified Work Ready Community in 2014. “You help people get their skills up so when those jobs come, the people are ready. It’s a great opportunity for them.”
New Careers for Veterans
Similar opportunities are available for military veterans through the new Operation Palmetto Employment (OPE) initiative, established in February 2014. With support from the SC National Guard and the SC Department of Employment and Workforce, the main goal of OPE is to streamline the process between military service and civilian employment.
“Our military community has a high technical skill base that employers are looking for,” says OPE representative Kyle Caldwell, a member of the SC National Guard. “With Operation Palmetto Employment, we now have that one-stop shop for any of our military community members who are looking for civilian employment in the state of South Carolina.
“There are a bunch of national initiatives out there, but this is a grassroots effort here in the state where our community lives. We’re building this labor market pool of talent with a highly technical skill base. It’s just an added resource to get the right people for the right job.”
Learn more about South Carolina's workforce training programs.