As the current economic expansion bids to become the nation’s longest, the slow and steady growth of South Carolina’s economy is beginning to impact the ability of companies to find workers. But, the SC Technical College System, through efforts like readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina, continues to help employers meet the challenge.
“The SC Technical College System exists because of workforce development,” says system president Tim Hardee. “That is our mission, to provide the workforce that is necessary for the state of South Carolina. There is no one magic ticket to do that. There are a lot pieces to that puzzle.”
South Carolina’s unemployment rate has been hovering around 4 percent and is closing in on full employment. “This has led to a tightening of the labor market and makes it more difficult for employers to find the workers they need,” research economist Joey Von Nessen told business leaders in December at USC’s Annual Economic Outlook Conference.
South Carolina has done an excellent job of attracting major companies like Mercedes Benz Vans, Volvo, BMW, Samsung, and Nephron. But all are growing and continue to need skilled workers. “Meeting these employment demands is critically important for South Carolina in 2018. Streamlining a process that helps South Carolinians identify job opportunities and the resources they will need to be appropriately trained is part of the process,” says Joey.
“With the business and industry that South Carolina has attracted, we want to make sure that we can deliver the workforce,” says Tim. Additionally, the days of just providing a warm body are gone. “Across the state of South Carolina years ago, it was: How do we provide an employee? Today it is: How do we provide a highly skilled employee?”
Companies coming to South Carolina benefit from programs like readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina. These statewide programs, housed within the technical college system’s Division of Economic Development, are national models for a way to address the labor shortage.
readySC works with companies that are either coming into the state or are looking to expand to recruit and train workers to get plants up and running as quickly as possible. Apprenticeship Carolina helps the workforce continue to grow by guiding companies through the registered apprenticeship process from initial information to full recognition in the National Registered Apprenticeship System.
readySC, coordinated through the technical college system office, works together with the state’s 16 technical colleges to provide recruitment solutions, curriculum development and training, instructors, and a training site. Training methods can include hands-on simulations, computer-based training, virtual recreations of work processes, one-on-one training and mentoring, as well as classroom training.
To qualify for readySC, a company moving into or expanding in South Carolina must be offering permanent jobs, a competitive wage, and a benefit package that includes health insurance; and, the number of jobs created must be sufficient to allow readySC to provide training in a cost-effective manner.
Companies can find out more about readySC at readySC.org. Job seekers can also use the website to find out about training programs. Tim cites Volvo’s decision to locate in Berkeley County and their recent expansion announcement as an example of how readySC works. The company originally announced the creation of 1,900 jobs. Before Volvo had even produced the first vehicle in South Carolina, it announced that it would be bringing even more jobs than originally expected to the state. readySC will work with Volvo to recruit and screen prospective employees and then train those employees to the company’s standards for both the original announcement and any expansion. “That is part of the agreement for them coming to the state of South Carolina,” says Tim. “We coordinate that recruiting and training through readySC with much of the training taking place down in the Charleston region working with Trident Technical College.” readySC was, in effect, part of the incentive package for Volvo to locate in South Carolina.
“At the end of the day, readySC is sort of our mechanism for how we provide training for that job-specific industry that is coming to the state,” Tim says. Depending on the type of company and its needs, each program is different.
The technical college system is at the table as the S.C. Department of Commerce recruits companies and as these companies decide whether to come to the state. “We are there through that process,” Tim says. “What companies like Volvo do is come and say, ‘We need 500 people with this skill set,’ or ‘We need 400 with this skill set.’ We must make sure that we have the capacity to deliver that number of people, to be able to commit to that — to know that we can deliver the number of graduates in specific fields.” He also praised the South Carolina General Assembly for providing the funding to address training, including equipment needs across the state.
“We’ve attracted these large employers, and once you’ve attracted them you have no choice but to provide the skilled workforce,” he says. But the program is not just for the large manufacturers bringing hundreds or thousands of jobs to South Carolina. In Richland County, readySC is working with Woodfield Systems USA, a designer and manufacturer of bulk liquid and gas handling equipment. Woodfield is opening a new 39,000-square-foot plant at 200 Business Park Boulevard in Columbia and is expected to create 50 new jobs. The plant is expected to be fully operational by the end of the first quarter.
Simon Hill, president of Woodfield, says he has been pleased with readySC’s involvement. The plant started with 10 employees and has been growing from there. All employees have come through readySC. Through readySC, Woodfield has sought frame welders, material handlers, and mechanical assemblers, but those hired knew they must be willing to wear multiple hats to get the plant up and running. “You may be a welder, but you need to do whatever needs to be done. That might mean painting floors,” Simon says. “The people coming in are great.”
Most people tend to associate readySC with the Boeings, the Michelins, and the Volvos — what Tim calls “the whale projects.” However, he says, “The reality is that we do that on a much smaller scale, whether it is 50 jobs or 25 jobs. It is just as important for that company with 50 jobs as it is for Volvo with 4,000.”
readySC is just the most recent iteration of what the SC Technical College System has been doing since its founding in the 1960s. “It was Special Schools at one time, then it was the CATT program. It is readySC now,” Tim says. “It is marketing as much as anything, but it is the same delivery system,” building on the success of what the tech system has been doing since 1961.
Apprenticeship Carolina, another program offered through the SC Technical College System, also aids in building the state’s workforce. Apprenticeships offer an earn-while-you-learn training model that combines structured on-the-job training and job-related education.
When Apprenticeship Carolina started 10 years ago, there were 90 apprenticeship programs in South Carolina. Today there are more than 900 registered programs across the state and more than 28,000 total apprentices. Ten years ago, apprentice programs were mostly for welders, plumbers, electricians, and others in traditional occupational training programs. Now they are more likely in fields such as manufacturing, health care, or even IT, such as at BlueCross BlueShield. “We have about 600 of the employees at BlueCross BlueShield in their IT field that work as apprentices and are growing their skills through our Apprenticeship Carolina program,” Tim says. “That is how it has changed over the years.”
In health care, Apprenticeship Carolina has worked with Agape Senior, the older-adults care company, and CVS Pharmacy. At Agape, the program is helping to train nurses, personal care assistants, and others. Every pharmacy technician employed by CVS in South Carolina is a registered apprentice with the CVS pharmacy technician program, Tim says. “You don’t normally think someone who is a pharmacy technician is an apprentice, but that model has changed.”
Apprenticeship Carolina placed an emphasis on increasing the number of youth apprenticeship programs across the state in 2012. This offers employers the opportunity to create a recruitment pipeline, decrease turnover, and shape potential future employees. In addition, employers can qualify for a South Carolina tax credit for each apprentice through Apprenticeship Carolina. One of the successful examples of the program is set up in the Charleston-Berkeley-Dorchester region, Tim says. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Trident Technical College, developed a program that now has about 130 youth apprentices. High school seniors receive training at Trident Tech and get work experience with local employers. When they graduate they have some technical college coursework completed and some job experience in their field of interest. “Again, it is a mix of not just your traditional apprenticeship type programs,” Tim says. “It is anything from automotive technicians to nursing to advanced manufacturing, to IT — all of those areas.” The chamber recruited its members to take advantage of the program and provided some funding.
Tim would like to see the program grow across the state. “We are just starting to see some of the fruits of the labor,” he points out. While the state already does an important job with workforce development, programs like readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina need to be expanded because of the labor shortage brought on by the tightening labor market, says Doug Woodward, director of research for USC’s Darla Moore School of Business.
“South Carolina’s current labor force shortage will likely persist unless we actively address it,” says Joey.
“We just have to be a state that can find the workers who possess these needed skill sets. Otherwise, the employers are going to have to go elsewhere,” Doug says.
South Carolina has done a great job of recruiting companies, maintains Tim. “The problem now becomes continuing to provide the skilled workforce that they need so that the companies continue to come.”