STEMming the labor shortage

America’s manufacturers are creating jobs, but are having a hard time finding workers with the education and training to do them.

Representatives from the local school district, higher education, economic development, workforce development and local industry gathered at the Union County Advanced Technology Center Tuesday morning for a kickoff event for the Upstate Regional Education Center’s (REC) “Dream It, Do It” campaign.

The campaign is an effort to address the growing shortage of talent and skilled workers in U.S. manufacturing by changing the perceptions of advanced manufacturing and the careers that it offers. Upstate REC plans to achieve its goal through increasing STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education in schools and by creating stronger business partnerships with the education community.

The presentation was led by Upstate REC Coordinator Cherie Pressley, who said that even at the height of the global recession, 32 percent of surveyed companies reported moderate to serious skills shortages in the hiring pool.

Research was conducted across the country by the National Association of Manufacturers to find out why manufacturers were struggling to attract candidates with the right mix of skills for certain job functions in their modern manufacturing facilities. Among other findings, research indicated that the perceptions of manufacturing careers were outdated and stereotyped as assembly line jobs. The association found that perceptions of manufacturing in South Carolina often include hot, dirty textile mill environments and keep young people from pursuing modern day careers that exist in this industry.

“We want to promote these high-tech manufacturing jobs, because that helps our community,” Pressley said. “We don’t just want to recruit new businesses, we want to take care of the ones we have. We want to make sure they get the employees they need and they can continue to be successful in our community.”

Sonoco plant manager John Babinski also spoke Tuesday morning.

“Business right now — for us — is as strong as it has ever been,” Babinski assured those in attendance.

He said even though the plant’s business declined in 2008-2009, the company has just experienced a record quarter and currently has 125-130 full-time employees in addition to many part-time and temporary employees. Babinski also said there is room for job growth in every position and the company is looking for logical thinkers with manufacturing experience whose resumes reflect that they possess drive and ambition.

Pressley said another goal of “Dream It, Do It” is to create partnerships between business and education, and she provided the following examples of potential programs to do so: Host student tours in manufacturing facilities Visit classrooms and contribute to the students’ curriculum Participate in Job Fairs/Product Showcases Provide Student Internships and Apprenticeships Engage Teacher Interns Host training for educators.

By Derik Vanderford, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times