UNION COUNTY — What does Carlisle Finishing have in common with Michelin and BMW?
All three are among the companies that have joined forces with Spartanburg Community College to try and prevent the “Grey Tsunami” from swamping the economies of the tri-county area of Cherokee, Spartanburg, and Union counties.
The term “Grey Tsunami” refers to the aging and rapidly approaching retirement of a large portion of the tri-county workforce.
A report compiled by SCC Director of Community Services Jennifer Little states that “42% of the current workforce in these counties is over 50 years old and will retire over the next 10 years.” It further states that “over 27% of the tri-county workforce is engaged in manufacturing, plus another 18% in construction. Nearly half (45%) engaged in jobs that require technical, mechanical or industrial skill sets.”
Little’s report quotes the “2014 Upstate Job Scene Report” that given this demographic reality there is a “desperate need for technically trained workers in the Spartanburg, Cherokee, and Union counties.” To meet that need, Little states that “employers need to transfer knowledge.”
That needed transfer of knowledge from the current workforce to a new generation is the goal of the “Spartanburg Community College Technical Scholars Program” which Little describes as a “partnership between Spartanburg Community College and local employers.” That partnership involves students who “are enrolled in an Associates Degree program full time and work for the employer part-time.” In turn, the employer “provides tuition assistance and an hourly wage for the student.”
According to Little the program began in 1982 and Michelin was “one of the original companies to hire scholars and now has 7 participating students. BMW started with 6 scholars from SCC three years ago and now has 36 SCC students.”
The ranks of companies in the tri-county area partnering with SCC through the Technical Scholars Program grew recently when Carlisle Finishing agreed to sponsor two students in Union County.
Union County Advanced Technology Center Site Coordinator Kathy Jo Lancaster announced the partnership recently, the first of its kind for the county, between Carlisle Finishing and SCC. She said that two students from will be participating in the program under the sponsorship of Carlisle Finishing.
“Cole Sigmon and Brad Allison of Union have been chosen to participate in Union County first Technical Scholars Program offered through SCC,” Lancaster said. “Carlisle Finishing will serve as sponsor to these young men beginning in the summer term. Both students are enrolled in the college’s Mechatronics degree program.”
Lancaster said that the program benefits both the students and the company sponsoring them.
“The benefits for the students is real world experience,” Lancaster said. “They are expanding learning beyond the classroom. They are also working part-time and earning wages at one of the area’s leading companies. They are receiving support for educational expenses and being considered for full-time employment upon graduation.
“The benefits for the employer are tremendous,” she said. “By providing on the job training in coordination with academic coursework the companies are able to grow their own workforce.”
Lancaster pointed out that the Grey Tsunami is not just a problem for the companies who are seeing trained, skilled and experienced workers entering retirement, but for the rest of the tri-county community as well. She pointed out that the area, along with the rest of the Upstate, has seen enormous growth in the manufacturing sector in recent years with new companies locating and growing here and older firms undergoing expansion. The future of such development, however, is dependent in large part on the availability of a workforce educated and trained to fill the jobs created by these industries.
“When you look at the numbers and see that more than 40 percent of our workforce is over 50 and will be retiring over the next ten to fifteen years this is forcing our companies and our community to look at the future and plan,” Lancaster said. “This program helps companies to transfer knowledge and be prepared, to have the right number of people with the right skills in the right places at the right time.”
For more information about the Spartanburg Community College Technical Scholars Program contact the Union County Advanced Technology Center at 864-466-1060.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.