It is common today for business leaders to agonize over workforce challenges. It has been well documented nationally that many of today’s younger employees lack the needed skills or training to succeed in our technology-driven economy.
Make no mistake: Workforce development is critically important to our future competitive position. South Carolina and the Upstate are dramatically outpacing the nation in manufacturing job gains. As a result, the Upstate’s skilled and experienced workforce – long a point of competitive advantage – is at risk of becoming a limitation if good-paying, career-oriented positions like multi-skilled maintenance workers and quality technicians go unfilled.
As a newcomer to Greenville, I am excited about our challenge and the opportunities that it presents. Even before relocating here, I was inspired and amazed to learn of the many groundbreaking initiatives that Greenville County citizens and businesses have undertaken to develop tomorrow’s workforce.
Thanks to this community’s vision, collaborative spirit, can-do attitude and work ethic, I am confident Greenville will continue to thrive – and reinforce across America our growing reputation as a workforce development leader.
Here are five great reasons to take pride in our community and be bullish on our future.
iMagine Upstate – This week-long celebration built around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), innovation and entrepreneurial activity launches March 28, 2015. The festival will include exhibits and interactive demonstrations, inspiring and enabling “Aha” moments that will shape our future workforce and showcase South Carolina as the national model for workforce development and STEM-related career paths. Tracks will include learning, innovating, engaging, creating, launching and making. The focus is on our youth, but it is equally important to have parents involved.
The tiny engineers of A.J. Whittenberg Elementary – With a robot as its mascot, Whittenberg is an elementary school of engineering developed by Greenville County Schools that also emphasizes traditional academic subjects. The school is largely paperless, with most schoolwork done on tablets. Students enter their work into folders, teachers use a stylus to comment, and parents can monitor the entirety of their children’s work. Keyboarding starts in kindergarten, and second-graders learn PowerPoint. Art and color are everywhere, as are busy workstations, books and photos. Last year, the Lego Robotics team won the right to compete in Germany – the only elementary school in America to do so. Its adjacency to the Kroc Center allows for lessons in swimming, golf, rock climbing, tennis, soccer and more.
STEAMing ahead at Fisher Middle School – With square desks and plastic chairs replaced by design labs and seminar rooms, space is flexible and geared toward project-based learning. Walls are moveable, furniture rolls and grades are divided into learning communities that connect classrooms, collaboration areas and shared offices where teachers work together. Students use Greenville County Schools-issued laptops, and large windows and glass walls put learning on display. Students also enjoy an engineering-centric computer room, indoor and outdoor amphitheaters, and a large fine arts wing and an innovation lab that lets students get hands-on with equipment as large as a wind turbine.
Nurturing entrepreneurs at NEXT High School – Expanding the pool of talented entrepreneurs in the Upstate is the goal behind NEXT High School, launching fall 2015 with 250 students. Lockers and 50-minute lectures will be replaced by collaborative workstations and problem-solving programs, mentors and working labs in corporate offices with skilled professionals. Risk-taking and failure is encouraged, and NEXT will take project-based learning to the next level – out of simulation labs and into the real world. Students will have individualized graduation tracks, with some starting businesses of their own after high school while others go to college. NEXT High will be evaluated on such metrics as the number of patents applied for, the number of businesses started and internship hours.
Industry-driven education at the Center for Manufacturing Innovation – A collaboration designed to educate workers for the automotive, transportation and other high-tech sectors, this center will enhance development and implementation of advanced manufacturing technologies. Led by Greenville Technical College and located adjacent to Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) CMI will include dual-credit programs in partnership with Greenville County Schools, bridge programs that allow a student to move from associate’s degree to bachelor’s degree and workforce training and certificate programs that increase the qualifications of manufacturing employees. Students will gain practical experience working with engineers and faculty, and the center will showcase advanced manufacturing careers to K-12 students through dual enrollment programs, tours, camps and open houses.
These and other initiatives show Greenville is fully committed to meeting the workforce demands of tomorrow. Thanks to the vision and foresight of everyone involved in these pioneering efforts, our entire community will enjoy an even brighter future.