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Columbia Business Monthly

Orangeburg County: OCtech and Claflin partner with industry to produce the workforce of today and tomorrow

Dec 07, 2018 11:32AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Vincent Harris

There was a time when technical colleges offered the same curriculum semester after semester, and if the technology that industries around them were using outpaced what they had to teach their students, it was unfortunate, but not disastrous.

There was also a time when the career development office on a college campus was where students in their senior years might go to get help with a résumé or possibly find some contacts for potential employment. 

There are two institutions in Orangeburg County that are great examples of how far both technical schools and liberal arts colleges have come in terms of preparing students for their future in an increasingly competitive, ever-evolving workforce.

At Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, there’s no such thing as a static curriculum, at least when it comes to their non-credit training programs. Those courses, which once would’ve been called “Continuing Education” classes, now exist under the department name “Training and Development.” 

“Most of the training that is done through this division is customized training,” says Sandra Moore, OCtech training and development director. “It was developed specifically for a company’s needs. It could be something as short as an eight-hour forklift training course or a four-hour CPR class, or as in-depth as a 200-hour certified production technician course.”

The key in the training and development department at OCtech, whose student body numbers around 2,500, is flexibility, in terms of both the companies’ needs and the students’.

“Customized training can start at any time,” Moore says, “and it can be delivered any hours, on-site or on the campus. The schedule typically accommodates working adults, and most of the people we get are people who are already working. In fact, it could be individuals who are working at a company we’re working with.”

In order to keep Orangeburg County’s workforce trained to help their industries, a school like OCtech has to communicate with those companies to learn what their needs are and what new technologies they’re working with. The school’s most high-profile association in this regard is with Husqvarna Outdoor Products, a Swedish company that manufactures riding lawn mowers, chainsaws, and other outdoor equipment and has a large production facility in Orangeburg County.

“We do a number of customized training programs with them,” Moore says. “We recently put together a program when they had an immediate need for welders. We developed a 40-hour curriculum to get folks trained, and it’s specific to Husqvarna because we used actual Husqvarna parts and components. They hand over their procedures, their equipment model numbers, and we develop, from scratch, a training program for them.”

But it’s not just about bringing in existing employees for further training. 

“We have programs set up for internships and a very active apprenticeship initiative,” Moore says. “I regularly send individuals over to different companies for potential employment as welders or tool-and-dye workers or machine-tool workers, and if they’re selected, they’re able to go to work immediately because of those programs.” 

Moore works with her instructors at the school to develop programs for companies like Husqvarna.

“We send an initial training proposal and then we go back and forth with the company,” she says, “adding or taking things away, until we come up with something concrete. We want to deliver what the company really needs, and I’m blessed to be able to utilize the expertise here, so most of what we do we have the resources to do right here.”

About four miles down the road at Claflin University, which has just more than 2,000 students, the Office of Career Development is an entirely different place than it was one of two decades ago. Today, Claflin offers a start-to-finish approach to their students’ training that is the definition of “comprehensive.”

“The end goal is to prepare our students over all four years to graduate and immediately move into employment or to graduate school,” says Carolyn Snell, the university’s director of career development.

Starting before incoming freshmen even arrive on the Claflin campus, they’re expected to begin learning how to acclimate themselves with the post-collegiate marketplace.

“We have certain criteria that the students must go through in order to pass, even though there isn’t an exam,” Snell says. “You must research companies, prepare a new résumé, attend workshops, and participate in mock interviews, all of which is to help the students acclimate to what to expect. They learn how to market themselves in addition to having a great GPA.”

Claflin also works with companies like Boeing, Mercedes-Benz, Aflac, BlueCross BlueShield, and BMW to constantly update their curriculum.

“It’s about more than having companies come on campus for a career fair,” Snell says. “These companies establish relationships and establish summer internships. We also have exchange programs where members of the faculty visit different businesses and industry people come into our classrooms, so that our curriculum can be aligned with workforce expectations. It’s a marriage; we work closely with the industry and try to make modifications as the industry dictates.”

The concept Claflin uses is called “curriculum alignment,” where what they teach is constantly updated as technology and business needs change around them.

“It’s important to do that because if you look at the makeup of Claflin University, our students largely come from rural areas and small towns,” Snell says. “There’s no real industry in those towns. So the students’ outlook is totally different. That’s why it’s important to start preparing them as freshmen, to get them acclimated to what the expectations are, both at Claflin and in the workplace. We prepare our students to be professional, and to be competitive.”