For technical students, a Dreamliner come true

Power tools emit high-pitched screams inside a Trident Technical College classroom as students learn how to drill a fastener into a thin composite plate.

None of the two dozen students take their assignment lightly. Next week, they could be drilling those same fasteners into the side of a real Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Gov. Mark Sanford on Friday signed the incentive package that clears the way for the largest single industrial investment in South Carolina history. The $750 million Boeing 787 assembly plant is expected to bring thousands of badly needed jobs to South Carolina's ailing economy.

For three years, workers at the former Vought and Global Aeronautica fuselage assembly plants have made their first stop at ReadySC's Dreamliner training program, learning how to read blueprints, obey the rules of a sterile work environment and seal together lightweight composite plates that make up the outside of the 250-passenger aircraft.

And instructors are now bracing for thousands more students in the wake of Boeing's announcement that it will build a second assembly line in North Charleston.

Boeing Co. executives who worked out the final expansion plan details insisted that the state-sponsored ReadySC program train new workers for their future assembly facility.

Already, the program has trained about 1,400 workers to work on the Dreamliner project in the last three years.

The program costs $10 million of the massive $450 million state incentive package offered to Boeing earlier this week, but state lawmakers proclaimed the program invaluable, a tool that outfits the region's manufacturing workforce with a company's precise skill needs.

"Frankly, it's some of the best money we spend as a state," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell. "Think about it: we're providing training specific to a job (workers will) have when they get out."

During negotiations, Boeing executives candidly told state leaders they worried about finding enough skilled workers in the Lowcountry, which doesn't have a long-standing aviation manufacturing presence, Harrell said.

At the company's main manufacturing hub near Seattle, officials could draw from a large pool of workers whose aviation skills, in some cases, have been passed down through generations of families.