Recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce continues to be one of the highest priorities for American companies, and a program launched by the Upstate SC Alliance is one of the latest examples of efforts to meet that need.
Skill Up is part of the Move Up Upstate SC initiative launched in 2018 by the Upstate SC Alliance in collaboration with area technical colleges to address workforce needs. Skill Up was launched in 2020 in response to labor shifts prompted by the pandemic, according to Alliance President and CEO John Lummus.
Meeting an acute need
The pandemic and the global economic disruptions it exacerbated focused companies on one of their most basic needs and one of their greatest potential vulnerabilities: skilled labor.
“Every company we’re talking to, the first question on their list is: ‘Where am I going to find my people?’” Lummus says.
Recognizing this reality, the alliance launched the Skill Up program to focus on unemployed and underemployed workers who could learn the skills needed to fill in-demand jobs with 12 months or fewer of training.
The program is centered on courses of study offered at Greenville Technical College, Spartanburg Community College, Piedmont Technical College and Tri-County Technical College targeting skills in 15 professions.
Many of those professions involve skilled technical trades like electricians, welders, CNC operators and HVAC technicians, while others are devoted to in-demand medical fields like emergency medical technicians, pharmacy technicians and certified nursing assistants.
The short-term training programs offered through area technical colleges offer a non-degree track to acquire the skills needed to find jobs in a resilient, in-demand field.
Lummus explains the program is meant not only to provide the workers that companies need but to provide people with the chance to change the trajectory of their lives and improve their circumstances.
“It’s a win-win-win, as we like to say,” Lummus says.
A new beginning
The prospect of gaining new skills and improving the prospects for her family prompted Laurens County mother of three Lynn Rogers to use the Skill Up program to become a CNC operator.
Rogers obtained her Computerized Numerical Control certificate through Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood and went on to become a broach operator with ZF Transmissions in Gray Court.
“It’s allowed me to provide for my kids what they need and what they want,” she says. “If we want to go somewhere, I can afford to do that. Prior to working here, I couldn’t.”
Before pursuing her CNC Certificate, Rogers worked for 14 years at a desk job in medical record keeping, with a 50-minute commute each way.
Driven by a desire to spend time with her children, shorten her commute and pursue a more active job, she connected with Piedmont Technical College’s short-term training opportunities and tapped into funding support through the SC WINS Scholarship. She explored nursing and respiratory care before trying out the machine-tool-technology courses that led her to CNC machining.
With the Upstate already home to a robust manufacturing sector and consistently attracting new firms, Rogers represents a ready-made talent pool firms can tap into to meet critical staffing needs, Lummus says.
Skill Up’s target professions and median income
- Software developer — $84,232
- Cybersecurity & networking specialist — $83,114
- Certified logistics technician — $59,415
- Industrial maintenance worker — $49,738
- Computer support specialist — $49,518
- HVAC technician — $48,058
- Electrician — $47,247
- Welder — $44,521
- Commercial truck driver — $42,404
- CNC operator — $41,513
- Machinist (tool & die) — $39,049
- Automotive/diesel technicians and mechanics — $37,487
- Pharmacy technician — $33,394
- Emergency medical technician — $31,627
- Certified nursing assistant — $25,500
(Source: Upstate SC Alliance)