Are lowcountry students ready for jobs in demand?

Are lowcountry students ready for jobs in demand?
September 08 14:14 2016 Print This Article

More good-paying, high-tech manufacturing related jobs than the tri-county area has ever seen before are projected to open up in the near future.

Will local high school graduates be ready to leap into college courses enabling them to land these careers? Are high schools properly informing their students of the emerging lucrative but challenging new job markets? Is enough being done to steer students into classes that will prepare them for the college curricula and technical training they will need to become the scientists, technologists, technicians, engineers, aircraft and auto painters, production technicians, machinists and inspectors the hiring firms seek?

Spokespersons for local school districts believe they have risen to the challenge. But some industry representatives hope to see more done and say schools need to pitch the high-tech careers to students as early as middle school.

Boeing already employs 8100 at its North Charleston aircraft manufacturing plant and has plans for expansion . Boeing makes technologically advanced aviation products, most notably the 787 Dreamliner.

Volvo is already hiring for its Jedburg auto manufacturing plant, which opens in 2018. The Swedish carmaker expects a payroll of at least 4100 there.
These two manufacturing giants are but a part of the total high-tech employment picture. Robert Bosch and a slew of other parts suppliers will be hiring thousands of manufacturing workers in the coming decade.

Studies cited by the industries show that about 100,000 jobs, both private and military, are provided by local high-tech firms. Joey Von Nessen, a research economist with the University of South Carolina and author of a report updating the industry’s economic impact, found that the majority of firms providing high-tech jobs are small businesses with fewer than five employees.

“We also see growth, not just in aircraft manufacturing, but in engine manufacturing, instruments manufacturing and other types of firms,” Von Nessen found.

Another report, for Aviation Week magazine, the 2016 Southeast Manufacturing Study, determined that the Southeast has the highest rate of growth in terms of aerospace manufacturing operations.

Carole Hedden, who conducted the research, said South Carolina is struggling to meet the increasing demand for employees with advanced technical knowledge and skills.
Private-sector employees in the industries earn an average of $70,000 per year — 31.2 percent higher than state manufacturing jobs as a whole and 69.3 percent more than South Carolina’s average wage, studies found.

When local firms cannot fill jobs with local applicants, they have to look elsewhere for the skilled personnel needed.

Local school districts report they hear the call and are informing students of the rapidly growing and desirable employment opportunities and are providing the courses they will need to qualify for the jobs. Advanced classes, job fairs, job shadowing, internships, mentoring, cooperative efforts with local colleges and manufacturers, and dual high school and college credit programs are all part of the effort to prepare grads for high-tech employment, spokespersons for Charleston and Dorchester County School District 2 said.

Berkeley County did not provide input for this story.

“We began planning a number of years ago for high-tech careers – before it got to be a hot topic,” said Pat Raynor, public information officer for Dorchester School District 2.

The Charleston County School District maintains a Career and Technology Education program (CTE), available to each of its high schools. The district seeks students interested in technology related careers as early as the ninth grade, Chad Vail, work-based learning partnerships coordinator for the district said.

CTE works with local manufacturers and other businesses and colleges. Through CTE, students aged 16 and 17 can join apprenticeship programs. Interested students take part in job shadowing and internships provided through local manufacturers. “Every student should know there’s a well-paid job waiting for them,” Vail said.

Last fall, CTE helped put on a regional career fair, aimed at 9th and 10th graders, Vail said. This year’s fair will be bigger and is slated for Oct. 27 at the North Charleston Convention Center. 2000 students are expected to attend and meet manufacturing employers. Career fair information is available at CharlestonEmpowered.com.

Raynor said Dorchester School District 2 is well-aware of the projected increase in technology jobs and aims to do its part to see that the jobs are filled locally. The district begins promoting technology careers to 8th grade students.

Robotics programs, mentoring, job shadowing, internships and consultations with students and parents are part of the district’s efforts. The district works with local manufacturers and the Charleston and Summerville chambers of commerce to plan programs that promote technology jobs, she said.

Years ago, Dorchester 2 launched a culinary arts education program and horticulture and bio-med programs in response to local employment needs. Included in the district’s response to the high-tech future are plans for new class spaces and labs.

Engineering courses are being designed with input from local manufacturers, she said. “It’s amazing the strides that have been made,” she added.

The district is among local ones that team up with Trident Technical College on a program that allows students to earn nearly two years of college credit while earning their high school diplomas. Last year, 55 students graduated from District 2 with high school diplomas and also associate’s degrees from Trident Tech.

The corporations that hope to dip deeper into the Lowcountry employee pool are watching very closely the efforts of local school districts, said Rebecca Ufkes, president of UEC Electronics in Hanahan. She encourages the promotion of technology careers as early as elementary school.

Guidance counselors are a key, she said. Counselors need to “sit down with kids every year and ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ They need to keep them informed about careers and the pathways to them,” Ufkes said.