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Columbia Business Monthly

Clarendon County: First Timers Clarendon sets its workforce sights on the young and underemployed

Dec 07, 2018 11:13AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Anne Creed

"With an unemployment rate of around five percent — and I think much of the state is in the same boat — it's a little bit of a challenge to find folks to go to work," says George Kosinski, executive director of the Clarendon County Development Board. "So we are focused on the underemployed people who want to get back into manufacturing or get into it for the first time." 

He also wants to start early to engage young people in the county. 

Elizabeth Williams, dean of workforce development at Central Carolina Technical College, agrees: "With unemployment so low, it is difficult to find workers. Going about recruitment in the usual way isn't working."

In response, Clarendon County community leaders are creating innovative programs to develop a pipeline of young, highly skilled workers who will be ready to help local businesses grow and expand while also attracting more development to the area. These efforts are the result of a partnership between county government, Central Carolina Tech, public high schools, private high schools, the Chamber of Commerce, and local manufacturers. 

Apprenticeships and Customized Training
Central Carolina Technical College, along with Bicycle Corporation of America (BCA) and Powell Valves, has created two new youth apprenticeship programs. 

"BCA and Powell Valves have taken a unique approach because they start with students in high school and work with them," Williams says. "A lot of companies aren't like that. When they hear 'youth', they're not interested. These two companies are willing to give it a shot.

"Youth apprentices have to be paid just like regular employees, and the employer has to work around their class schedules," she says. "A company that is willing to do that is sincere about developing good employees and is willing to invest in them with skills training and making them into the kind of employee they want them to be. I think that's impressive. I wish more companies would do that."

Interestingly, five years ago, there were no mass-produced bicycles in the United States. That changed when BCA came to Clarendon County, where they employ more than 100 people and have produced more than 600,000 bicycles that are sold through major retailers around the country.  

BCA's youth apprentices learn to be production technicians. "That's an entry-level job that's perfect for a young person who is still in high school and is still trying to figure out what to do," Williams says.  Powell Valves' youth apprenticeship program gives them machine tool skills. All youth apprentices undergo 176 hours of training. 

Adult apprenticeships are also available through different Clarendon County businesses in the following areas: HVAC technician, office manager, and maintenance technician. Apprenticeship programs must be registered with the state. 

Beyond apprenticeships and regular degree programs, the college works with companies to develop customized training for adult employees to develop a skill or to meet a credentialing need. 

"The type of training that we do is very broad. It's not just manufacturing. We also train for healthcare, business, industry, law firms, whatever," Williams says. "The training can be for a technical skill, or it can be for something like leadership, safety, or related to the environment."

The college reacts quickly, too. "I can have a company call and say, 'We need this training next Monday,'" she says. "Most of the time, we can do that."

Eighth Grade Manufacturing Expo
Another way that schools and community leaders are working to develop the area's young people is through a new Eighth Grade Manufacturing Expo. 

Kosinski says, "We're very excited about the Expo, which will be in November and will showcase manufacturing for the 250-300 eighth graders we will bring in. They'll see manufacturing as a career. 

“Today's manufacturing is much different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. They'll see that it's not dirty and it's not labor intensive,” Kosinski adds. "They may see that they need to get a two-year degree. They may become interested in mechatronics, industrial graphics, hydraulics, any number of disciplines that will keep them in the community and grow our workforce.

"The endgame, really, is to get folks interested in living and working here, starting in the eighth grade," Kosinski says.

He adds that big things are afoot in the Clarendon city of Manning. "With the city's revitalization efforts in the downtown area, that will make it a cool place for families,” Kosinki notes. "We want it not to be a pass-through on the way to the beach, but a destination. There are things that we have in the works that are confidential, but they are going to make the town a unique destination."
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