South Carolina

York County has the jobs, but students need the skills, experts say

Education and business professionals came together April 4 to discuss workforce development.
Education and business professionals came together April 4 to discuss workforce development. aharris@heraldonline.com

York County has the jobs, but experts say more needs to be done to prepare students and others to enter the workforce.

“There’s not a lot of folks out there right now who are available and prepared for hire,” said Tom Drumwright, senior human resources manager for Meritor in York.

Meritor, a leading global supplier of automotive products in 19 countries, is working to recruit and retain talent, Drumwright said.

The baby boomer generation coming of retirement age and new companies moving into York County, such as LPL Financial in Fort Mill, are “going to place a major strain on our community,” Drumright said.

“We’re retiring more people now than I have seen anywhere in my 30 years,” he said. “We have a need right now to expand the labor supply. There’s just not enough labor in York County to provide those of us who want to hire with the quality of person we’re going to need.”

York County also is working to capture talent commuting into Charlotte through new billboards and a job search site strictly for regional seekers, said Hannah Spruill, marketing coordinator with the city of Rock Hill’s Economic and Urban Development.

“We have recognized there is a need for qualified talent in this area,” she said. “We know it’s here, they’re all driving to Charlotte.”

Education and business leaders came together April 4 to discuss workforce development.

Preparing students

Students who choose not to go to college have the potential to go straight to work, Drumright said. However, he said, “they aren’t ready yet.”

More than 80 percent of employers struggle to find graduates with the soft skills needed to do the jobs, according to a 2014 study by Hay Group, a global management consulting firm. Soft skills include interpersonal skills, teamwork, conflict resolution, initiative and communication skills.

“Soft skills can lead to hard numbers,” said Jordy Johnson, chief executive officer of Microburst Learning, which creates interactive professional development programs. “Our young people need this and we need this as employers. Unfortunately, they are not getting it in their homes like they used to.”

Microburst Learning offers EmployABILITY Soft Skills program to help students and others develop those skills. The program includes an online pre-assessment, interactive online lessons, instructor certification, instructor guides with classroom activities, post-assessments and student certification.

“We help young people go to work and make you successful, and by doing that, they will make themselves successful,” Johnson said.

Microburst is using the program with Lancaster County students and across the state, Johnson said.

Participants learn employment basics, such as showing up on time, how to listen effectively, working with others and making good decisions, he said.

Johnson said his company found many students don’t know how to handle conflict.

“They would rather turn to their phones and start clicking than deal with the person face to face,” he said.

Microburst also offers interactive online job shadows and career-based games.

Meritor partners with York Technical College to provide career development for their employees, Drumwright said. Through the program, the company trains employees in machining, welding and maintenance, he said. The end result is the company gets a trained labor force and the employees are able to make more, he said.

“It’s improving people’s lives and taking care of the labor supply,” Drumwright said.

Connecting job seekers

Job seekers must be able to find jobs and companies must know how to find talent, said Shea Tighe, national director of engagement for STEM Premier, an online platform for students to build professional profiles.

Catawba’s Future, a Tri-County workforce development initiative in South Carolina run by STEM Premier and S.C. Future Makers, connects companies with talent.

Companies want to come to this area, but the problem is many students aren’t aware of the opportunities in their back yard, Tighe said.

“There are different paths to success, but most students feel the four-year college is the only way to be deemed a success,” Tighe said. “We want to share with them much earlier that’s not necessarily true.”

Students also are not aware of jobs available with companies in this area, and there are not enough opportunities for students to interact with businesses and colleges, Tighe said.

On STEM Premier, students digitally showcase their soft skills, test scores, credentials and experience.

Rock Hill and York Comprehensive high schools, York Technical College and others across the state are using STEM Premier, Tighe said. More than 3,000 students in York, Lancaster and Chester counties have signed up.

STEM Premier also allows companies to share job openings, internships and scholarships, Tighe said. He said it’s important because the new generation isn’t using sites such as LinkedIn.

“It’s an innovative and focused effort to connect the next generation of talent in York, Lancaster and Chester counties with opportunities in this region,” Tighe said. “These students are being discovered. That way once they graduate, they aren’t leaving Rock Hill and they’re not going to Charlotte.”

Meritor is on STEM Premier. It is attracting future talent through virtual tours of its facility for eighth grade students and has increased its focus on high school students, Drumright said.

Companies are starting to recruit students earlier, a key to success, said Greg Rutherford, York Tech president.

“Our ability to see progress with what we do is dependent upon you,” he said of local companies. “Nobody comes here for just the sake of education. I believe we can grow the pool of available, quality people if we work together.”

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