Strategic Coalitions Key to Improving South Carolina’s Workforce Readiness

The Boeing Company’s opens its Commercial Airplane Decorative Paint Facility in North Charleston, SC, USA. Source: Flickr.

South Carolina’s current economic climate is undeniably one of growth.  The South Carolina Department of Commerce is projecting solid growth for 2018 and the transportation, manufacturing, and education sectors, among others, are all showing net gains. This level of growth presents an ideal time for assessing our state’s workforce needs, both current and future.  

The South Carolina Council on Competitiveness has the vantage point of seeing these workforce needs firsthand, especially as they relate to the statewide industry initiatives we oversee, particularly SC Aerospace and SC Logistics.  Moreover, our signature education initiative, TransformSC, is an effective platform to facilitate conversations about workforce needs between the Council team, policy-makers, business leaders, and the myriad partners with whom we work to advance the long-term economic competitiveness of our state.

From this perspective, and, with insight from our stakeholders, I can say that South Carolina is in a prime position to double down on our investment in workforce readiness. Research spotlighted by the business-leader group ReadyNation shows that 62 percent of South Carolina’s jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020, while 34 percent will require at least some college, an associate’s degree, or a postsecondary certificate.  Unfortunately, only 55 percent of South Carolinians are currently projected to have attained the required levels of education, leaving a “skills gap” of seven percent.

Simply stated, our skills gap means South Carolina will have a lot more open positions than it will have workers with the appropriate skills and training to fill those positions.  We have made some progress on that front in recent years. South Carolina has already improved its overall rate of educational attainment by 7.6 percentage points.

One way to keep moving in the right direction and shrink our skills gap is by building stronger, better connections between postsecondary education and industry to make sure that South Carolina has the workforce it needs to remain competitive.  And the Council’s work is proof-positive that the business, nonprofit, and policy-making communities can collectively work to overcome these types of challenges.

For example, the TransformSC initiative has taken educators through the doors of the state’s largest businesses to hear directly from hiring representatives what skills they need students to have upon graduation. We have taken policy-makers on school tours across the state to see for themselves how innovation in education is having a direct, positive impact on student preparedness. We’re seeing results from these collaborative endeavors with several TransformSC schools demonstrating double-digit growth in graduation rates. Cougar New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy in Walterboro, SC even achieved a 100% graduation rate in 2017.

Yet, even as we point to success, we remain mindful that the work is ongoing and we continue to engage our cluster partners on the subject of workforce readiness.  As close supporters of programs such as Project Lead the Way and the South Carolina Coalition for Math and Science, we’ve been able to assist with the development of aerospace-related curricula for K-12 schools across the state.  This year’s first quarterly SC Aerospace meeting focused on workforce development and was a standing-room only event during which aerospace companies of all sizes were exposed to resources and programs across the state dedicated to preparing students for the 21st century challenges in manufacturing and engineering. In addition, through the work of initiatives like the SC Manufacturers Alliance’s SC Future Makers program, South Carolina’s students are getting early exposure to the opportunities within the manufacturing industry and an appreciation for the overall impact the logistics industry plays in the state’s economy.

While these are just a few examples cited, many of us continue to ponder the question of what the future of work looks like and prepare to take steps towards creating solutions.  Many of the programs, resources, and initiatives already in place can serve as templates for the way forward. We only need to rally the right people to follow suit, and, as we continue to strengthen coalitions in support of our next generation of workers, South Carolina will grow increasingly competitive on the global stage.   

Susie Shannon is the President & CEO of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness.