County Steps up to Develop Local Workforce

Summerville Journal Scene

OPINION SHAPER: County Steps up to Develop Local Workforce

By John Truluck, Dorchester County Economic Development Director

February 27, 2019

One of the biggest topics of discussion in economic development today continues to be workforce development.

This issue is a concern for existing industry and prospective industry alike. I’ve said it before and I will say it again because it still holds true, “people cannot prosper without good jobs, nor can companies prosper without good people,” and thankfully Dorchester County has plenty of both.

Where we are falling short is ensuring that our good people have the qualifications that they need to capitalize on the new opportunities provided by our community’s manufacturing growth.

The 2018 Talent Demand Study shined a spotlight on the subject when it projected nearly 35,000 new jobs in our area over the next five years, and an estimated 18 percent of those to be in the production field.

This field was second only to projected software and IT positions. Currently, 45 percent of our jobs require an associate degree or certificate, but only 39 percent of our workforce has the required qualifications.

The folks who are already qualified are likely working in their chosen field already, which means we have a significant shortage of skilled people to fill existing openings.

As we compete with other states for new businesses, this lack of qualified workers becomes a major disadvantage.

As such, we’ve seen an increase of inquiries regarding workforce readiness from site selectors.

Without a robust workforce, we cannot compete.

Balanced growth planning must include a focus on workforce development to fill existing and upcoming jobs in our community.

It is our responsibility to plan ahead for future needs and create a pipeline of qualified employees.

We’re working hard to prepare the next work generation for high-skilled, high-paying positions by implementing a host of programs designed for students K-12.

That still doesn’t address the jobs of today that are going unfilled. To help bridge this skills gap in our community, that is home to more than 80 manufacturing companies, we’ve partnered with Trident Technical College to host ManuFirstSC.

This free training program helps participants overcome the number one barrier to securing a position in manufacturing, which is the requirement for a minimum of one year’s experience in the field.

It’s kind of hard to get started if you have to have experience to be hired in the first place. To date, 75 companies in our area have signed on to accept completion of ManuFirstSC’s 62-hour curriculum in lieu of their experience requirement.

That’s a big step, but we know it isn’t the only barrier. Some of our neighbors may believe their lack of a high school diploma or WORK KEYS score, or possibly even their criminal record prevents them from taking advantage of this program, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Representatives from the appropriate agencies are on hand at our information sessions to guide interested parties towards remedying these situations and get them ready to enroll in an upcoming course.

Additionally, we understand that many of the folks who would benefit from this training already work one or two jobs trying to make ends meet.

They may not have transportation to travel to class locations or available time during the work week to attend classes. We’ve made adjustments to accommodate for those needs as well.

The classes will be held in their communities and will be offered on nights or weekends, depending upon the needs of the participants.

We are committed to helping align the employment needs of our community with the skills needs of our manufacturers.

The opportunity is here, with more on the way, and we believe ManuFirstSC provides a clear pathway to qualification and a brighter future for Dorchester County.