NEWBERRY — What kind of workforce is needed to advance industry in Newberry County and improve quality of life here?
That question was explored by representatives from Piedmont Technical College, the Newberry County School District, area employers and county and city government at a recent Workforce Opportunity Summit.
Leaders spoke of working together to create a talent pipeline with opportunities for children who live in Newberry County to train here and find a job in the area.
Teresa Powers, director of economic development for Newberry County, spoke of how the ultimate customer of the higher education system is not the student, but the businesses.
“We need input to know how to build the workforce of the future and also learn more about the growth needed to support you now,” Powers said.
PTC President Dr. Ray Brooks mentioned PTC’s new mechatronics program that starts this fall and of PTC adding an occupational therapist assistant program in the future.
“County council has shown vision and put things in place (such as funding for the current PTC facility) to enable (area businesses and the county) to be successful,” Brooks said.
Brooks said education institutions need to produce self-directed, independent learners.
Representatives from area companies mentioned issues with the current work force and with people looking for work, including those who could not complete applications, lack of interview skills and soft skills, people unwilling to expand their knowledge past one area, some with substance abuse issues, and people with poor attendance/work ethic.
Carla Whitlock with S.C. Technical College system went through survey results submitted by the industries present.
Health care, IT and manufacturing are a few areas Whitlock sees as possibilities for Newberry County, in part due to its proximity to the port of Charleston, its registered megasite and interstate access.
She showed statistics that 72 percent of businesses will have key people retiring within the next five to seven years as baby boomers reach retirement age.
Skills in demand include industrial painting, lean manufacturing training and blueprint reading, among others. She mentioned some barriers to work force training including lost work time, cost and lack of company specific training. Whitlock mentioned that PTC, by offering more localized training at its new facility, can help area businesses overcome some of those barriers.
Whitlock works with companies to register their training programs as apprenticeships. A goal is to have apprenticeship standards that transfer from state to state.
Skills needed in the new workforce are computer knowledge; tech support skills; math skills including geometry, calculus and also basic measurements and fractions; mechanical and electrical skills; strong written and verbal communication skills; and the ability to adhere to safety practices.
During breakout sessions government leaders, educators and industry leaders discussed ways to help produce a workforce that can move beyond those barriers and find sustained employment.
Council members said they hope the mechatronics program, and others like it, will lead to more jobs. Leaders noted that in 2013 Newberry had more people working than in 2007.
Councilman Scott Cain said he was encouraged by the willingness of people to come together and discuss workforce related issues as a group with the aim of collectively bettering the county’s work force and economic outlook.
There are some options where high school students can take courses at the career center and at PTC and Cain, who is active with economic development board leadership, hopes to see dual credit course offerings expanded in the future.
Later in the summit, the sessions addressed preparing today’s students, educating tomorrow’s workers and preparing the workforce from a statewide perspective.