Quest Diagnostics lab (copy)

A worker runs tests in a Quest Diagnostics' laboratory. The company, a giant in employer drug testing, says more job applicants' drug screens are coming back positive. Provided

Finding prospective employees with advanced manufacturing skills isn't the biggest problem facing Volvo Cars as it looks to staff up its Berkeley County campus.

The key hurdle is finding workers who can pass a drug and background test.

ReadySC, a state-run training program, is in charge of recruiting and hiring most of the 4,000 workers who will ultimately be hired at Volvo's $1.2 billion facility near Ridgeville, which is scheduled to start production of a redesigned S60 sedan this summer.

Applicants are put through a battery of assessment tests, telephone and in-person interviews and pre-employment training before they can receive an official job offer. The part that eliminates the largest percentage of candidates, however, is the drug test and background check.

It's the last hoop candidates must jump through to get a job, and 70 percent of those who get that far wind up failing.

The second-biggest cut — at 54 percent — comes during the in-person interview phase, when those in charge of hiring determine whether an applicant has the right aptitude and personality for the job.

A job skills assessment test is the very first thing applicants are asked to do, and it eliminates 50 percent of candidates right off the bat.

All told, only 3.75 percent of the thousands of people who've applied for jobs with Volvo have gotten an offer.

The fact that drug testing eliminates so many shouldn't come as a surprise. A recent study shows more than one in 18 South Carolina workers who took a drug test in 2017 didn't pass. The state's 5.6 percent failure rate was the sixth-highest in the country, according to Quest Diagnostics, a New Jersey-based giant in workplace drug testing. The national average was 4.2 percent.

A Bloomberg News report says the large number of drug test failures combined with a tight labor market has led some companies to abandon the employment screening method.

"Pre-employment testing is no longer worth the expense in a society increasingly accepting of drug use," the report states.

Bloomberg adds, however, that some jobs will always require drug testing, no matter what. And those include manufacturing positions where, for example, workers are putting together vehicles that other people will be driving on the highways.

ILA president Ken Riley

Ken Riley is president of the International Longshoremen's Association No. 1422. File/Wade Spees/Staff

On the waterfront

The union representing dock workers at the Port of Charleston and other East Coast and Gulf Coast ports will resume talks with the United States Maritime Alliance in June as the two sides try to reach an agreement on a new master contract before the current one expires on Sept. 30. Meetings are scheduled in Delray Beach, Fla.

The Journal of Commerce reported last week that shipping lines have threatened to shift cargo to West Coast ports, which operate under a different contract, if a deal with the International Longshoremen's Association isn't finalized soon.

Sign up for our new business newsletter

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.

The master contract covers wages, health benefits and other issues common to seaports from Maine to Texas. Local contracts that cover port-specific issues, such as work rules and pensions, also have to be ratified. The ILA wants to get those local agreements completed before the master contract is approved.

Ken Riley, president of the local ILA No. 1422 in Charleston, has said automation is a key sticking point for the dockworkers he represents. The union is afraid technology, like the new advanced gate system at the Charleston port's container terminals, eventually could replace jobs. Riley also wants ILA members to operate the cranes at the State Ports Authority's new terminal being built in North Charleston. Cranes at the Charleston terminals are currently operated by SPA employees.

Boeing 737-MAX

Boeing Co.'s Propulsion South Carolina employees check out a 737 MAX test airplane in late 2016. Workers at the propulsion center design and make engine parts for the 737 MAX. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Engine repair

Boeing Co.'s propulsion center in North Charleston has started offering repair services for LEAP-1B engine inlets used on the aerospace firm's 737 MAX commercial planes as part of a nacelle exchange program that began in February.

Under the program, airlines can exchange nacelle parts that need repair or overhaul from a certified pool that's maintained at Boeing sites worldwide. Boeing says the program eliminates the need for its customers to contract, schedule, manage and own or lease the parts.

The Federal Aviation Administration recently gave regulatory approval to the repair service. 

Propulsion South Carolina — which opened in 2015 at Palmetto Commerce Park — designs and assembles engine nacelle inlets and fan cowls for the single-aisle 737 MAX as well as engine nacelles for the 777X wide-body plane. The LEAP-1B engine is built by CFM International, a partnership of General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines.

The propulsion center is among several Boeing facilities in North Charleston, including the 787  Dreamliner assembly campus adjacent to Charleston International. Boeing is one of the region's top employers, with about 6,750 workers and contractors.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_