Technological developments in advanced manufacturing have created a situation where business and industry struggle to fill high-demand positions with highly skilled employees. Often referred to as a skills gap, this dilemma represents a very real challenge for employers.
At the most recent U.S. News STEM Solutions Summit, it was reported that a relatively small increase of just 10 percent in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degree completion would solve our national workforce problem.
South Carolina is no exception. In our state, STEM-related occupations represent the fastest-growing, highest-wage jobs in the state.
Aerospace provides a prime example. This industry is growing by leaps and bounds in the South, and South Carolina is leading the way. According to a recent article in USA Today, aerospace jobs in South Carolina jumped from 865 workers to 5,685 workers between 2007 and 2012.
The S.C. Technical College System has been on the cusp of this growth providing the education and training necessary to build a skilled workforce for the advanced manufacturing and aerospace industry in South Carolina. Across the state, our 16 colleges understand the importance of aligning curriculum and program offerings with the specific needs of business and industry.
This alignment is showcased through the exponential growth in our Associates in Applied Science degree as well as increased enrollment in such programs as mechanical engineering technology, industrial maintenance technology and machine tool technology, among others. In fact, nearly half of our recently added programs across the state were in these areas.
Apprenticeship is another tool the System employs to address the workforce skills gap in South Carolina. Established in 2007, Apprenticeship Carolina works to increase awareness and use of registered apprenticeships in the state. The growth has been phenomenal. Since its inception in 2007, the number of programs has increased seven-fold from 90 to nearly 650 registered programs today.
At the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the crowd and praised community colleges as the best route into the middle class in a time when the "aperture" into the middle class is shrinking. He went on to introduce a new federal program designed to encourage, coordinate and possibly help fund apprenticeship programs between employers and community colleges.
During his speech, South Carolina's approach was held up as a model for the nation, Biden said, "Here's the kicker - South Carolina increased its number of apprentices from 700 in 2007 to nearly 10,000 today. That's incredible!"
Through its colleges and internationally renowned programs, the S.C. Technical College System provides access to quality higher education and advanced skills training for the majority of the state's undergraduates and first-generation college students. The system opens doors and bridges gaps by working to ensure high-demand positions are filled with high-skilled employees.
And, yes, the results are incredible.
James C. "Jimmie" Williamson, Ph.D., is president of the S.C. Technical College System.