SC Tech Schools Responding to Workforce Needs

Tech Schools responding to workforce needs

By Andy Brack  |  Part of what makes South Carolina so attractive to businesses is how the state’s technical colleges are able to provide a highly-skilled workforce quickly, state officials say.

Dr. James C. Williamson, system president of the S.C. Technical College System, notes that the administration of Gov. Nikki Haley has been “extremely successful” with bringing new business to the state, such as Continental Tire and Volvo.

“The flip side of that success is the expectation of a trained, skilled workforce each new project brings,” he said. “Educating and training the workforce to meet rapidly growing industry demands is a constant challenge for the S.C. Technical College System and our 16 colleges across the state.”

Every year, more than 250,000 South Carolinians get education and job training at the system’s colleges, which were started more than 50 years ago by then Gov. Fritz Hollings.

“At any given time, our readySC program is working with 125 projects across the state recruiting and training their initial workforce,” Williamson said. “And our Apprenticeship Carolina program continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. Since its inception in 2007, the number of programs has increased eight-fold from 90 to 746 registered programs.  The number of apprentices is nearly 13,000 from a mere 777 in 2007.  All of this comes together to provide a comprehensive workforce solution that sets South Carolina apart.

A youth apprenticeship program at Trident Tech.

A youth apprenticeship program at Trident Tech.

Trident Technical College, the largest of the 16 tech schools, works closely with local businesses and industries to establish U.S. Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship programs for youths and adults, according to spokesman David Hansen.

“These European-style apprenticeship programs are helping to grow the next generation of highly skilled workers for the resurgent manufacturing sector,” he said.

Other innovative efforts under way throughout the state include:

Nursing simulation labs, where students are able to develop competencies in a variety of health care settings with programmable, life-like mannequin “patients.”

Dana McAlhany, a simulation coordinator at Orangeburg-Calhoun Tech, has said that the mannequins are “smart” because they “blink and their pupils change when light reflexes. You can make them sweat, bleed, talk and cry. They have heart tones, breath sounds, bowel sounds and pulses in all of the areas.”

Having such modern, innovative tools allows students to practice what they’ll experience for real in hospitals, McAlhany said. “Here, we can turn the mannequin on and off and bring him back up if the students don’t do what they’re supposed to do. It’s a learning opportunity that they will probably never forget.”

Aeronautics training: Trident Tech is building a $79 million training center to help businesses like Boeing and affiliated vendors in the growing aerospace cluster. Having a central location to train the workforce is seen as a huge asset to employers, officials say.

Youth apprenticeships: Hansen said youth apprenticeship programs in manufacturing, information technology, culinary arts and hospitality are industry-driven. They provide long-term workforce solutions for industries that need trained workers. Most importantly, he said, the tech school can offer apprenticeships in just about any field in which employers are willing to hire and train people.

Infrastructure improvements: The Gould Business Incubator at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology on the campus of Florence-Darlington Tech soon will unveil a special room of 3D printers that can be used by industry clients and students to prototype products for everything from new technology to machines.

“This is very beneficial to our clients because they don’t have to outsource this work,” said incubator manager Ashley Dingle. “They have this right here at their fingertips.” Furthermore, it will allow students to be on the cutting edge in applications of immediate use in industry — which means jobs for tech students.

Williamson, the system president, said tech colleges meet workforce training and innovation needs every day.

“Our system strives to be nimble, quick and on point in meeting local workforce needs,” he said. “Our colleges’ programs and offerings reflect the communities they serve. It’s an approach that works and works well.”