Two workforce groups and several companies from the Upstate, including Michelin North America and Dollar General, brought hope to about 200 people impacted by the construction shutdown of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station on July 31.
The Spartanburg Area Business Development Center and SC Works Greater Upstate joined forces with SC Works Midlands to host a trade skills career fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Chapin, S.C.
About 77 employers participated in the event, eager to provide jobs for some of the estimated 5,600 employees who lost their jobs after SCE&G and Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the multibillion-dollar plant in Fairfield County.
Banks Construction Group, Carolina Bridge Co., Lear Corp., and Morgan Corp. were just a few other names on the list of employers at the event.
“This was the first time we’ve partnered [with SC Works Midlands] to do something like this,” said Johnnie-Lynn Crosby, regional director of business solutions at SC Works Greenville and Upstate. “Overall, it was a success. We don’t know how many people found jobs. They were very appreciative and thankful… About half of the people who showed up were high-level engineers.”
Crosby said the event broke down “boundaries” that typically exist between workforce groups operating in separate parts of the state. It also proved that employers statewide are still struggling to find qualified candidates, she said.
Steve Knight with the Midlands Workforce Development Board said about 900 former V.C. Summer employees attended a job fair on August 14 in Chapin.
Hundreds more showed up for a second event held two days later in Columbia.
Those job fairs were part of Gov. Henry McMaster’s “Employ SC” rapid response coalition announced Aug. 3 to assist those affected by the suspension of the nuclear reactor project.
“We’re working on it,” McMaster said Tuesday during a visit with business leaders and civic leaders in Spartanburg County. “There’s been a great collaboration and outpouring of interest and determination evidenced where we’ve had these job fairs… There were people being hired right there on the spot. It was quite remarkable.”
McMaster said the state is still “about 60,000 people short to work in these big plants in this new industrial economy.”
“We’re having a revolution in technology,” he said. “All this innovation, it has taken us off the scale. It takes a new kind of education. And that’s one thing that our technical colleges, our community colleges are able to provide. We have the assets to meet that demand. But the jobs are coming so fast because all of these big companies are coming here, expanding here, and staying here. Others are following their lead.”
McMaster referenced the state’s readySC workforce training program. He said under the program South Carolina plans to send teams to countries overseas to determine what kind of talent and training their companies would need in their workforce in order to locate a facility here.
“We have all we need,” he said. “What we have to do is to determine that we’re going to have the kind of education and training to meet the needs of this revolution going on in technology. South Carolina can stay ahead of the competition. We used to have people looking for jobs. Now, we have jobs looking for people. They’re good jobs. The workers in many of these big plans anymore don’t bring their toolboxes anymore. They bring their laptops. We’re developing an enormous source of brainpower in South Carolina.”
Robbie Dunaway, maintenance training manager for Greenville-based Michelin North America, said he and his team attended Tuesday’s job fair in Chapin in hopes of filling 60 maintenance technician positions.
“Safety is a big deal for us,” Dunaway said. “Ninety-nine percent is not good enough. If you think about it, that’s what makes [former V.C. Summer] employees very attractive to us… They come from a culture of safety and possess high aptitudes, particularly in math.”
Dunaway said Michelin has already recruited some former V.C. Summer employees. He said 23 of them have passed the company’s entry-level exam.
“We have plants all over, which means they will also have opportunities if they are willing to relocate,” Dunwaway said. “It is becoming increasingly difficult [in South Carolina] to find people.”
Paula Willis, human resources manager for Georgia-Pacific’s facility in Clarendon, said her brother lost his job in the V.C. Summer debacle. She was at the job fair Tuesday with a team seeking to fill about 10 positions for the manufacturer.
“I haven’t talked to him so I don’t know yet [if he found a new job]. I hope so,” Willis said. “We are in need of people with electrical and instrumentation skills, specifically PLC [programmable logic controller] technicians.”
Crosby and Knight credited Elizabeth Smith, area manager for the Spartanburg Small Business Development Center, for coming up with the idea for Tuesday’s hiring event.
Smith lives in Chapin, but commutes to Spartanburg. She is a member of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church. Smith said 25 families in her parish were impacted by the plant’s shut down.
“I used to work [for the Small Business Administration’s] nuclear cluster,” Smith said. “I got to know many people at V.C. Summer. These are all my friends. When the announcement came out, I thought, ‘This can’t be good.’ I immediately called [Ann Angermeier, executive director of the Upstate Workforce Investment Board]. These are good workers that we need in the Upstate.”
Smith described many of the V.C. Summer employees are U.S. Navy veterans. She said most are highly disciplined, detail-oriented, and ethical.
“There’s a code of honor among nuclear workers,” she said. “The first thing they know is they’d like to work for another nuclear operation.”
Crosby said she received word Tuesday that many of the high-skill engineers affected by the announcement have found work in South Carolina or out-of-state.
She said Tuesday’s event was aimed at helping groups not serviced by the first two job fairs, including managers and office personnel, many of who live in the area.
Lexington-Richland School District 5 was even offering to help jobseekers with emergency assistance funds in order to make sure the children of impacted families do not miss school.
Knight said Zesto, a Restaurant in Chapin, provided free food for Tuesday’s job fair.
“I have seen more compassion – people reaching out to help one another – than I ever expected to see,” said one former V.C. Summer employee, who attended Tuesday’s job fair, but asked not to have her name printed. “I didn’t expect to see such an outpouring of support.”
James McLaughlin, of Irmo, lost his job at the V.C. Summer plant. He said he found out about the closure from a coworker, who had heard about it earlier in the day from a local media outlet.
“They called us into a meeting at 1 p.m. and told us to stop working. Even management didn’t know,” McLaughlin said. “It’s good to know that there are still people out there who are willing to help those in need.”
Charlene Lemerond, of Gaffney, said she was considering buying a home in Chapin while she worked for the plant in order to save money on rent. While her dream of buying a home is on hold, her hopes for finding a new job are still high.
“The bills keep coming even if the paychecks stop,” Lemerond said. “I support three households.”
SCANA, the holding company for SCE&G, will host a job fair for former V.C. Summer employees from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on August 29 at the DoubleTree by Hilton at 2100 Bush River Road in Columbia.