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Apprenticeships help fill the skills gap in S.C.

Source: Upstate Business Journal

April 22, 2015

Apprenticeships have existed in America since our country’s earliest days. In South Carolina, they have played a strong role in workforce development over the past eight years, the result of a concerted effort by our state to meet the needs of business and industry.

In 2003, when a South Carolina Chamber of Commerce study determined that qualified people to fill midlevel jobs were the state’s most critical need, South Carolina lagged behind neighboring North Carolina and Georgia in using apprenticeships to fill the skills gap.

A coordinated state program to build awareness and use of apprenticeships, Apprenticeship Carolina, was established in 2007 within the South Carolina Technical College System. The program, which provides free help for companies interested in getting started with apprenticeships, began with 90 companies and 777 apprentices. Since then, 713 companies have grown the workforce by creating 11,669 registered apprenticeships.

Today, Apprenticeship Carolina helps companies use the earn-while-you-learn training model to deliver structured on-the-job training combined with job-related education typically offered through the state’s technical college system. South Carolina, once lagging behind, is now recognized as the nation’s leader in use of apprenticeships.

In the Upstate, apprenticeships have easily gained acceptance, in part because of the global companies represented here and their use of apprenticeships in Europe and other locations. Companies such as Bosch Rexroth, headquartered in Germany, have a long history of using apprenticeships to create skilled employees and see the value in this approach.

While apprenticeships have become part of the Upstate landscape, their scope is not always understood. Apprenticeships are not just for crafts or manufacturing. More than 1,000 occupations can be registered across industries that include health care, information technology, construction technologies, energy, tourism, transportation, distribution and logistics. Sometimes thought only to create entry-level employees, apprenticeships can, in fact, be used to grow skills at different levels.

Upstate electrical contractors, for example, were early adapters of the apprenticeship model. They came together as an alliance and trained their own people through customized classes at Greenville Technical College. Greenville County EMS was another pioneering entity. They worked with Greenville Tech to create a career pathway that would elevate skills from the most basic all the way to the paramedic level.

Companies benefit from apprenticeships in a number of ways. The combination of job-related educational instruction and on-the-job application of those skills creates a higher skill level than one or the other alone could offer. And it’s a consistent skill level, with all employees meeting both company and industry standards. Employees who have a deeper understanding of their jobs provide better quality work and productivity, and because the company has invested in their advancement, they’re more motivated and less likely to leave. Apprenticeships allow companies to build the workforce today as they plan for tomorrow, creating a system for transferring knowledge from experienced employees to new recruits.

In addition to the cost savings realized by reducing turnover, apprenticeships offer a number of other financial incentives. A state tax credit of $1,000 per apprentice per year for up to four years provides financial assistance for workforce growth. Other financial resources may be available to help.

While companies benefit greatly, individuals benefit, too. As they increase their skills, wages progress. Employees earn certifications that can travel with them throughout their careers. And because they’re learning both in the classroom and on the job, apprentices gain a level of confidence they wouldn’t have without this earn-while-you-learn option.

Though the Upstate has come a long way with use of apprenticeships since 2007, we have the opportunity to go much further. Though used in many sectors, apprenticeships could be used by an even wider range of employers. A personnel shortage, for example, looms in the IT field. Apprenticeships would allow this sector to create the skills to fill these positions before a shortage hampers growth.

We have the opportunity to use apprenticeships more effectively in the health care arena as many other parts of the state are already, creating skilled nursing assistants and other health care positions. We also have tremendous opportunity to broaden the reach of apprenticeships to a much younger age group. In the lower part of the state, Trident Technical College creates excitement for youth apprenticeships through a signing day, giving young people who are headed for promising futures in the workforce the same recognition that athletes receive.

Apprenticeship programs provide a viable workforce development tool for organizations to meet their growing personnel demands. Apprenticeship Carolina can tell you more about whether an apprenticeship will help you meet your goals, involving Greenville Technical College to create and deliver customized training. To learn more, go to www.apprenticeshipcarolina.com.


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