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Ensuring that workers have the right skills for available jobs requires a team effort among employers and education systems. Often, that is easier said than done, but employers and colleges in the Greenville, S.C., area are showing such partnerships can work.
During a field hearing this week in Greenville, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce focused on the role of higher education in job growth and development. It held the hearing at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, which has generated nearly $250 million in new investments, with another $500 million in development. It has also announced the creation of more than 2,300 new high-wage jobs.
Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College (GTC), was among the witnesses from higher education who outlined efforts in postsecondary education to better connect with employers as well as K-12, colleges and universities.
“Our job now is to work with employers to bridge the skills gaps that exist in manufacturing, health care, IT and other industries,” Miller said in his prepared remarks. “The revival of our economy requires continued partnership of education and employers.”
Trained and ready to work
Many large international companies such as BMW, General Electric, Nestle and Michelin have manufacturing operations in the Greenville area, and they are looking for skilled workers. The automobile sector is one of the success stories in the area. This month, BMW—now the largest exporter of cars in the U.S.—announced its new BMW Scholars program that assists students in GTC, Spartanburg Community College (SCC) and Tri-County Technical College in an effort for the company to grow its workforce.
Health care is another burgeoning industry in the region, attracting many displaced workers who once worked in the industry—and those workers often head to community colleges for training. More than 230 nurses have re-entered the workforce, often taking online nursing programs to upgrade their skills to become registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, said Miller, former chair of the American Association of Community Colleges’ board of directors.
Diane Stewart is one of those former nurses. Through federal job training funding, Stewart completed her training last November at Trident Technical College, reactivated her lapsed nursing license and is now working, Miller said.
Recognized for their work
Other industries in the area also benefit from partnering with two-year colleges and universities on initiatives to reach K-12 students. House committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) cited a recent grant from the Timken Foundation to SCC to buy robotic tool kits and test a program that pairs engineers and college faculty with elementary and middle school students to introduce them to robotics.
In an op-ed this week in the Greenville News, Gowdy and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, noted another partnership between Forsyth Technical Community College (North Carolina) and the National Association of Manufacturers to provide students with job-specific skills based on nationally recognized standards.
“Forsyth Tech’s tailor-made programs produce workers with the targeted skills necessary for careers in growing manufacturing fields like biotech and pharmaceutical production,” they wrote. “Additionally, Forsyth Tech’s reputation as a community college with an extremely flexible job training program helps draw investment to North Carolina, such as the new Caterpillar manufacturing facility that will create 400 jobs in Winston-Salem.”
Dwindling public funding
Miller noted the effectiveness of certain federally funded efforts to get workers trained quickly and into jobs, such as GTC's federally funded Quick Jobs for the Future program. It gives displaced workers and career switchers a way to attain the skills needed to enter the workforce within 90 days. Miller cited a woman who came to his college when she was laid off, ending a 23-year career in a low-skill manufacturing job. She completed a program in health information management and now works for a local hospital in medical records, Miller said.
Funding, however, continues to be an issue for community colleges and their students, who continue to come to two-year campuses in droves. About 7,400 of GTC’s roughly 15,000 students receive Pell Grants, Miller said. Two-year colleges and other higher education institutions are concerned that federal lawmakers may target the Pell program to help cut federal spending. Education advocates argue that would mean fewer students would attend college, resulting in fewer trained employees.
Students are already facing increasing tuition and fees at many community colleges, which are looking for ways to make up for less state and local funding. At GTC, state funding has dropped from $1,473 per student in 1999-2000, to $677 in 2010-11, according to Miller. To make up the difference, the college has had to focus on tuition and fees. In 1990, tuition and fees comprised about 6 percent of GTC’s operating revenues. In 2010, it was nearly 53 percent.
“When we have to raise tuition and fees to continue to meet our goals of providing high-quality opportunities for learning, we impact the people who can benefit from what we offer,” Miller said.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges