Among manufacturers and businesses across South Carolina, the vital role technical and community colleges play in providing a skilled workforce is widely touted and often singled out as a point of pride.
But it has not always been this way.
It used to be common in South Carolina to encounter an attitude that education at a technical or community college was less-desirable than a four-year degree. At an event in August announcing the expansion of the BMW scholars program. Lt. Governor Pamela Evette said some of that attitude remains.
She told those gathered in the BMW Zentrum that when her son expressed the intention of going to a technical college, some friends asked if she was disappointed.
“It was then I realized we were looking at our technical colleges as second-tier choices,” Evette said. Addressing a crowd of high school students contemplating careers in advanced manufacturing, Evette pushed back forcefully on the notion of a technical education as inferior. She said the programs offered through the state’s technical colleges are among the best options for rewarding and high-paying careers in the state’s booming manufacturing economy.
According to Larry Miller, vice president of learning and workforce development at Greenville Technical College, the programs his and similar colleges offer are the result of decades of collaboration between the technical colleges and the state’s business community, and between technical colleges and four-year universities.
Miller said the high demand for skilled workers across numerous business sectors underscores the reality that technical colleges and four-year universities are not in competition, but complement each other in meeting demand for workers.
“What people need to understand is that getting a technical education does not put you on a career track that ends with that first job,” he said. In fact, rising tuition costs nationally have accelerated the trend of students knocking out their general education requirements at technical and community colleges before transferring to colleges and universities to obtain undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Miller also said the trend of dual-enrollment options being offered to high school students is also feeding this complementary relationship. “That’s the way the whole country is going,” he said.
Meeting a critical need
According to Upstate SC Alliance executive director John Lummus, the number one concern companies looking to move to the Upstate express is the availability of a skilled workforce. “We are constantly thinking about that,” Lummus said. “We have a really good system in the Upstate with our four technical colleges.”
Lummus said the close collaboration between the technical colleges and the companies searching for skilled workers have paid substantial dividends in economic recruitment. He called the highly-developed workforce development programs like those offered at Greenville Tech a “huge incentive” for companies looking to move to South Carolina.
He also said that scholarship opportunities like the one recently announced by Governor Henry McMaster pledging $17 million for students in high-demand fields mean many students can obtain new skills at little or no cost.
This is also an objective of the Greenville Tech Foundation, which in November raised more than $180,000 during its annual Workforce Development Salute fundraiser that will help fund scholarships for students.
Ann Wright, vice president for advancement at the Greenville Tech Foundation, said opportunities at the technical college are geared to giving students real-world experience that easily transfers to the workplace.
“When they step into the workplace for the first time, you would never know it was their first day,” Wright said. “They know what to do because they have already done it.”
For more information about programs offered at Greenville Technical College, visit gvltec.edu.
Some Greenville Tech programs geared toward workforce development
- Advanced manufacturing technology
- Mechatronics technology
- Machine tool technology
- Aircraft maintenance and automotive technologies
- Emergency medical technology (paramedic)
- Computer technology
- Supply chain management