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Columbia Business Monthly

Kershaw County: Kershaw County fosters close-knit workforce development effort between Central Carolina and companies

Dec 07, 2018 11:18AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Richard Breen

How close is the relationship between workforce development and economic development?

In Kershaw County, the economic development office shares a building with Central Carolina Technical College. Next door, the school district is building a new Applied Technology Education Campus.

“It’s right out my window,” says Peggy McClain, the county’s economic development director. “We feel it is important to develop partnerships and work together to create jobs and support our local industries.”

With Kershaw County’s unemployment rate down to 3.7 percent by mid-summer, demand has risen among employers seeking ways to maintain a skilled workforce.

“It’s grown exponentially,” says Gordon Morris, Applied Technology Education Campus director. “When it hits that 3-4 percent rate, it’s amazing.”

There are a number of initiatives in Kershaw County that assist employers across the Midlands. Some help connect skilled workers with new jobs, while others assist employers with boosting the skills of their incumbent workforce.

“Unemployment’s so low, it’s hard for them to find new people,” says Elizabeth Williams, dean of workforce development and the South Carolina Environmental Training Center at Central Carolina Technical College. “They’re willing to train their employees to get them ready for new positions or get them to a higher skill level for what they’re currently doing.”

The Husqvarna Construction Products plant on Two Notch Road has collaborated with vocational centers in Kershaw, Lexington, and Richland counties. It offers tuition assistance for employees to receive additional training.

“Finding entry-level to highly skilled employees is very difficult,” says Gary Hill, production manager. “One of the best ways it to train your own.”

Growing Facilities and Programs
During the 2017 academic year, there were 948 Kershaw County students attending CCTC out of 4,829 total. The school’s main campus is in Sumter, but it has a 30,000-square-foot Kershaw County Campus near the intersection of Interstate 20 and U.S. 521. The Kershaw County facility completed an expansion in February of this year.

With the new space, CCTC is adding classes in mechatronics and engineering design technology to the welding training it currently provides.

“Those are three programs that are a big need for manufacturers,” Williams says. “We’re offering full-tuition scholarships that include supplies and tools.”

CCTC has also been involved in setting up apprenticeship programs with Kershaw County employers such as Suominen Nonwovens, which has a facility in Bethune. The school has also assisted companies such as GE Appliances in Camden with training and is in talks with Kershaw Health about potential programs.

“We’re just really excited about the growth we’ve had in Kershaw County,” Williams says. “There’s potential to do a lot more.”

The campus expansion includes a 3,000-square-foot training space that can be customized to suit each employer.

“They can bring in equipment,” McClain says. “It’s a great place for training to occur.”

Working Hand in Hand
The Applied Technology Education Campus currently sits off U.S. 1 near the county airport, but by August 2019, it hopes to open its new, $30 million, 109,552-square-foot campus.

“We are very excited about the facilities and the campus growth that’s occurring,” McClain says.

Students can participate in an accelerated program in mechatronics coordinated between ATEC and CCTC.

“They can already be halfway through a degree in mechatronics before they even leave high school,” Morris says.

At the new ATEC, students will be able to hop off one bus and have access to training at both Morris’ facility and CCTC.

“We can all be out there together, working hand in hand,” he says.

Employers around the Midlands, from construction to auto repair to advanced manufacturing, have reached out to ATEC for assistance in finding skilled workers. ATEC helped set up a pair of apprenticeships with Thompson Turner Construction in Sumter.

“They’ve done a wonderful job,” says Janice Poplin, vice president of human resources and risk management. “We need good workers, so we really believe in supporting the school system.”

ATEC has placed several students with Lugoff Automotive Group for paid internships. Many have advanced to full-time jobs. Rusty Taylor, fixed operations director for the dealerships, says finding qualified technicians is his biggest challenge.

“We’re willing to groom them,” he says. They’ll often bring in promising students to work part-time in other departments, such as auto detailing, while they receive training.

Husqvarna Construction Products has had success with the ATEC graduates it has hired.

“We would absolutely love to partner and explore opportunities with them once again,” Hill says.

Several other organizations are also involved in workforce development in Kershaw County. For example, the Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments helps coordinate training in Clarendon, Kershaw, Lee, and Sumter counties. The S.C. Manufacturers Alliance sponsors the S.C. Future Makers program, which promotes manufacturing and information technology careers to students.