Wednesday, August 27, 2014
“10 million unemployed. Yet employers’ No. 1 problem is finding the right talent.”
That’s the subtitle to an article I read recently, and while the title sums up our situation, the article does a tremendous job in outlining not only how we got here, but also how to address the issue.
There have been tons of articles written over the last several years related to the “skills gap.”
Many of those address certain aspects, but this piece has done the best job of revealing the complexity of the issue and reinforcing the idea that if we are to succeed we have to work together.
Big problems require big solutions, and big solutions require teamwork.
As I have transitioned into my new position, I have visited with a number of our existing industries that are echoing some of the frustrations mentioned in the article.
I have also traveled and visited with prospects in other regions that are facing a much more dire situation than we have in Georgetown County.
We are fortunate, in many respects, that our longstanding existing industries – like International Paper and Arcelor Mittal – as well as some of our newer companies – such as SafeRack and EnviroSep – have demanded a skilled workforce, and for the most part, the community has been able to meet that demand.
That said, we cannot be complacent. For us to grow, we have to ramp up our efforts to grow a responsible, skilled workforce.
Last week, there was a meeting of a group that is committed to taking on this challenge.
The group consisted of representatives from the Georgetown County School District, Horry-Georgetown Technical College (I say Georgetown-Horry Tech), the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance for Economic Development for Georgetown County, SC Works, and the Waccamaw Regional Education Center.
There a number of layers to fully addressing this issue. These range from taking an existing workforce and finding ways to teach them the value of leveraging modern technology, to convincing parents that a technical education is a valid option that offers some students a solid career at a fraction of the cost of a four-year degree.
Several weeks ago I found a cartoon that captures the sentiment.
It shows two young men, one of whom tells the other he is starting trade school in the fall. A thought bubble shows the other young man’s opinion on that: “Loser.” A panel below each character shows that the starting salary for the young man going to trade school will be twice that of the other young man “upon graduation from a pricey, 4-year school with a liberal arts degree.”
And that’s if the second young man is “lucky.”
Please don’t misunderstand: offering more students the opportunity for a technical education is one piece to a very fragmented puzzle, and I do not want to imply that a four-year degree has no value.
There is not a “one size fits all” solution to career readiness. We, as parents and as a community, need to ensure that our students understand all of their options.
Others factors addressed in the article were the need for more formal employer-based training programs, exposing students to various trades and skills at an earlier age, and, among others, increasing apprenticeship opportunities.
The article does highlight the wonderful job that Apprenticeship Carolina has done and is continuing to do.
I also would like to point out that the “skills gap” is not exclusive to our manufacturers.
There is also a tremendous need for high-tech skills. We need coders, designers, etc. Everyone is very aware of the pace at which new technologies are rolling out and being integrated into every single corner of our lives.
That is not going to change, if anything, it will continue to speed up. It is my contention that every single business should be looking for every way possible to integrate technology into every single aspect of their business.
This emphasis on tech integration is one of the reasons we have partnered with the Grand Strand Technology Council to launch Startup.SC at the Litchfield Exchange. Startup.SC is an incubator project as well as a technology oriented co-working space in Litchfield.
Earlier this year, Startup.SC was named one of 14 recipients of the South Carolina Department of Innovation grants.
The effort will create an avenue for those that have solid business ideas and offer the resources and mentorship to execute the idea.
The effort will also create classes and seminars to help us non-technical people understand how we can better leverage technology.
These efforts along with our efforts aimed at increasing our pool of skilled tradesmen will position Georgetown County to benefit from the growing number of companies looking to solve this problem.
The status quo is not an option. The world is moving too fast to stand still. We cannot afford to get left behind in the resurgence of manufacturing and growth in technology.
Brian Tucker is Georgetown County’s director of economic development. He is the former president of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce.