With a shortage of skilled workers across a wide range of careers and trades, a growing number of South Carolina companies, including those in the Upstate, and the nation are turning to apprenticeship programs to train their next generation of employees.
Apprenticeships, common in European countries, are an earn-while-you-learn model that combines structured on-the-job training, job-related education and a scalable wage progression. In South Carolina, there are nearly 6,100 active apprenticeships in 797 programs.
Seneca-based Greenfield Industries, a company that makes industrial cutting tools, offers one such program.
“Hopefully, we can walk them early to a career path,” said Bobby Densmore, the company’s vice president of operations.
Apprenticeship Carolina was formed in 2007 after an S. C. Chamber of Commerce study found that workers who could fill midlevel-skill jobs that required some postsecondary training but not a four-year college degree were the state’s greatest need. The program, which operates under the S.C. Technical College System’s Division of Economic Development, started with 90 companies and 777 apprenticeships. The program bucked a nationwide trend where apprenticeships were in decline.
Now, as there’s a renewed push for apprenticeships nationwide, South Carolina’s program is still growing faster than the rest of the country’s. Almost 2,400 people in the state joined apprentice programs last year. Participation has increased 92 percent in the past five years. That compares to a 51 percent growth nationwide during the same time.
A state tax credit of $1,000 per year for up to four years per apprentice has helped grow the Apprenticeship Carolina program. The tax credit offsets the costs of sending adult apprentices to technical college. But the tax credit isn’t the biggest payoff, said Donny Edgar, a supervisor who has worked at Greenfield for 46 years.
“It’s hard to find a lot of good people. You can find people and you can find some good people, but it’s hard to find a lot of good people,” he said. “It’s an investment in the future.”
Calvin Roach is an apprentice at Greenfield. He started in the youth apprentice program as a high school senior who attended the Hamilton Career Center in Oconee County. He attended school from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and worked at Greenfield from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. This past summer, he worked full-time at Greenfield running a machine that makes drill bits. This fall, he’ll be a full-time employee as one of the company’s adult apprentices while attending Tri-County Technical College.
“It’s definitely worth the time and effort. It pays off in the long run. You can’t get the money or experience in any other teenage job.”
-Calvin Roach, Greenfield Industries apprentice
“It’s definitely worth the time and effort. It pays off in the long run,” said Roach, who comes from a long line of machinists. “You can’t get the money or experience in any other teenage job.”
But in South Carolina, apprenticeships go beyond the building trades to fields such as nursing, pharmacy, information technology, finance and horticulture.
The University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business is currently conducting a return on investment study to quantify the affects of apprenticeship programs in South Carolina, said Carla Whitlock, senior apprenticeship consultant with the technical college system.
“We know that apprenticeships can go a long way to bridging the skills gap so many companies face,” she said.
One of the fastest growing segments of Apprenticeship Carolina is youth apprenticeships for high school students, Whitlock said. One hundred fifteen companies have registered youth apprenticeship programs and there are 103 active youth apprenticeships in South Carolina now, she said. Youth apprenticeships are for high school students.
“Through that program, high school students can see what it’s like in the real world,” she said. “More times than not, they are offered the chance to continue their education in our technical schools
One of the newest youth apprentice programs is at the S. C. Botanical Garden.
Patrick McMillan, the garden’s director, said the apprenticeship program would allow the garden to generate interest in horticulture as a viable career pathway. It will also introduce students to public garden horticulture, a field in which one of the job responsibilities is curating a collection of plants.
By the numbers
Career clusters targeted by Apprenticeship Carolina are construction technology; health care; advanced manufacturing; energy; information technology; tourism and service industry; and transportation, distribution and logistics.
number of counties in South Carolina that have registered apprenticeship programs
percentage increase in registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina since 2007
registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina
Active apprentices in South Carolina