UNION COUNTY — A major component in Union County’s future success in attracting new industry and facilitating the expansion of existing ones will be its workforce according to Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker.
On Thursday, Aug. 6, the Union County Industry Job Fair was held at the Union County Advanced Technology Center. The event, which drew more than 300 job-seekers, was the result of the collaboration of the Development Board, the Advanced Technology Center, and SCWorks. The job fair was different from others in that it provided on-site interview opportunities between job-seekers and the participating companies.
The companies in the job fair represented a cross-section of the various industries that make up a major part of the local economy:
• Construction Resource Group
• Standard Textile
• Belk Distribution
• Dollar General Distribution
• Vapor Apparel
• Millken (both local plants)
• Union County School District
• The Town of Carlisle
The event was also different from other job fairs in that the sponsoring organizations spent the weeks leading up to it providing job-seekers with opportunities to prepare in advance and maximize their chances of getting a job. This effort included workshops that emphasized the development of “soft skills” such as the ability to communicate and time management; and an email emphasizing how the Internet and social media have changed job fairs and stressing how those seeking jobs must adjust to this new reality by, among other things, researching the companies involved in a job fair and getting to know what they are looking for in an employee.
What Companies Are Looking For
In a recent interview, Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker discussed what companies in general are looking for in an employee and the kind of workforce a community must have to meet the needs of those companies in order to successfully recruit them.
“First of all, we need a willing workforce and we need a skilled work, i.e. we need people who have basic computer skills or the basic knowledge of computers,” Powell-Baker said. “We also need people with high-level technical skills.
“We need a range of skills from basic computer skills to high-level technical skills,” she said. “An example would be mechatronics and welding.”
Powell-Baker said that education is the key to a person getting a job in today’s job market and a community having the kind of workforce companies are looking for.
“Most companies require at least a GED for entry-level positions,” Powell-Baker said. “Beyond the GED is where the basic skills come in to play.”
A Mixed Group
Powell-Baker said the more than 300 job-seekers who attended were a mixed group in terms of education.
“I think with the core group that came into the job fair — nearly 300 people — we had a mix,” Powell-Baker said. “No GED, GED, high school, some college, professional level degrees; low skills, mid-level skills, and high level skills. When you looked at the resumes they reflected all of those.”
In addition to the mixed bag of educational levels, Powell-Baker said the turnout for the job fair also demonstrated that the county does not have the number of people it needs to fill the jobs it has recruited in recent years.
“I don’t think we have enough of what we need,” Powell-Baker said. “We’ve announced 700 jobs in the last five years and we had 300 people show up for our job fair. What that tells me is that they are the ones who are seeking employment or looking for a change in careers. Our target for the job fair was the unemployed, the underemployed, and people who live here but drive outside the county for work.
“We promoted the job fair in five adjacent counties and we had attendees from every county we promoted in,” she said. “The lions share — 90 percent — were from Union County. So when you’ve got a core of 300 people interested in Union and we’ve announced 700 jobs that tells me we still have a gap.”
What Needs To Happen
As for how to address this situation, Powell-Baker said that it will require an effort on both the part of the job-seekers themselves and the community as a whole.
“The people are going to have to train for the jobs industry brings,” Powell-Baker said. “They are going to have to be willing to go back to school.
“First and foremost, people are going to have to open their eyes to the new manufacturing jobs of today,” she said. “The manufacturing jobs of today are lucrative careers.”
Getting those lucrative careers, however, will require job-seekers to possess the skills the companies providing those careers need as well as the willingness to take advantage of any and all educational opportunities to help them develop those skills.
Powell-Baker said those opportunities must be provided by local educational institutions working together to help give those seeking employement in the lucrative careers provided by modern manufacturers and other industries the skills and education they need. She said these efforts are already under way in Union County as the Union County School District and the Advanced Technology Center are working together and with the Development Board to develop a pipline that will provide job-seekers with the skills they need to get the jobs of the 21st century and provide existing and prospective industries with the employees they are looking for.
Approximately 300 job-seekers took part in the Aug. 6 Union County Industry Job Fair at the Union County Advanced Technology Center. The job fair was designed to provide job-seekers with opportunities for on-site job interviews with the participating companies.
A line of job-seekers forms at the entrance of the Union County Advanced Technology Center during the Aug. 6 Union County Industry Job Fair. Approximately 300 job-seekers attended the event which was designed to provide those attending with opportunities for on-site job interviews with the participating companies.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.