Perspectives

South Carolina Apprenticeships Prepare Students for the Future of Work

South Carolina Technical Colleges partner with local employers in the automotive and other growing industries to meet local economic needs and connect students to careers.

This article is an excerpt from ACCT’s new report Partnerships for a Future-Ready Workforce, which details how community colleges and businesses can form strong partnerships, national trends in employer needs and postsecondary attainment, and policies and practices that form a continuum of education and career training.

As part of the South Carolina Technical College System, Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina and Tri-County Technical College in nearby Pendleton, South Carolina are helping students succeed in the local manufacturing industry and emerging fields by working to prepare students for modern careers. In particular, these colleges have focused on partnerships and apprenticeships with large auto-manufacturing companies to educate and train students and existing employees for in-demand jobs. These programs are part of a larger effort to expand apprenticeship opportunities across South Carolina.

To learn more about these efforts, ACCT interviewed leaders from both colleges, including Dr. Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College; Dr. Jermaine Whirl, vice president of learning and workforce development for Greenville Technical College; and Dr. Ronnie L. Booth, president of Tri-County Technical College.

Automotive Industry Partnerships and Beyond

Greenville, South Carolina is home to many manufacturing plants; however, employers face a common problem of finding employees with the right skills to meet their business needs. As a result, education and business leaders collaborated to establish apprenticeship programs tailored to the industry. Both Greenville and Tri-County technical colleges have partnered with BMW, one of the largest manufactures in the state, to offer the BMW Scholars program. The BMW Scholars program is a two-year apprenticeship program that allows students to complete coursework to earn an associate degree while also gaining on-the-job training with the latest technologies to prepare for a career in the manufacturing industry.

BMW Scholars is one of the more well-known apprenticeship programs in state and nationally; however, both colleges specialize in partnering with a range of manufacturing companies to design programs specific to their business needs. After starting the broader Tech Scholars program, in 2012, leaders from Greenville Technical College, along with other technical colleges in the region, worked with BMW to establish a formal partnership. Knowing that the area was experiencing an employment gap for skilled workers in the manufacturing industry, BMW became interested in the apprenticeship model as an opportunity to develop a skilled workforce by recruiting students from local high schools preparing to transition to postsecondary education or work. To develop the apprenticeship program, faculty from Greenville Technical College worked closely with human resources and training managers from BMW to design a curriculum specifically tailored to BMW’s needs--incorporating a variety of courses such as mechatronics, management, accounting, and foreign language. According to Dr. Whirl, the key to developing this partnership was flexibility and customizing the curriculum to meet BMW’s specific business practices.

The creation of the BMW Scholars program is part of Greenville Technical College’s broader effort to shift away from “traditional,” discrete education and training programs to a system focused on continual lifelong learning—starting in high school and spanning to reach existing and older workers. The college works in close partnership with local businesses from all sectors, the local and state economic development boards, the K-12 system, and community-based organizations. Through an academic program review process, with review stages at the one-, three-, and five-year marks, Greenville Technical Colleges’ academic advisory boards review program curriculums and students’ outcomes to ensure curriculum is up-to-date and aligned with industry needs. Academic advisory boards are facilitated by leaders at the college and include deans, program directors, instructors, and industry experts.

Since working with BWM, Greenville Technical College has expanded its partnerships with employers with the creation of a new degree program: a bachelor’s degree of applied science in advanced manufacturing technology, for which the region’s large manufacturing employers, including Michelin, GE, and Bosch Rexroth, had expressed a need. This new degree will prepare graduates to assume technical and managerial leadership positions in the growing global manufacturing sector, which drives South Carolina’s economic strength. The program bridges the gap between an associate degree in machine tool technology or mechatronics and a bachelor’s degree covering technical skills beyond the two-year credential. Legislation permitting the state’s technical colleges to offer the degree was recently signed into law, and the college is seeking further approvals from accreditors.

“With the signing of this legislation, the game has changed in South Carolina, giving Greenville Technical College improved ability to meet the workforce needs of industry,” said Dr. Miller. “We greatly appreciate our leaders in state government for recognizing the need to add a tool that allows us to deliver on our mission of transforming lives through education as we build a strong workforce.”

Tri-County Technical College is taking similar steps and has a wide variety of workforce-training programs, including in the manufacturing, banking, and healthcare industries. In addition to BMW, one of Tri-County’s largest manufacturing partnerships is the Michelin Manufacturing Scholars (MMS) program, modeled on the evidence-based Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program.The program started with a grant from Duke Energy and with a focus on offering more retraining opportunities for unemployed and underemployed adults in the area. According to Dr. Ronnie L. Booth, President of Tri-County Technical College, the key to establishing and sustaining a strong partnership is consistent communication between the college and the business.

Tri-County relies on advisory boards to ensure that their workforce development curriculums are aligned with industry needs. Dr. Booth also works to build more direct relationships with each business partner, listen to their needs, and ensure that each program is specialized. For example, while BMW Scholars is a two-year associate degree program, Michelin Manufacturing Scholars is a short-term certificate program. The variety of program lengths is a benefit for students looking for different educational experiences and helps ensure that each employer is training its workforce in a timeframe suitable for its business practices.

New Partnerships for Growing Industries

In addition to working with manufacturing industry partners, Tri-County Technical College and Greenville Technical College are working to integrate short-term, non-credit training programs and long-term, for-credit programs to fill urgent employer needs in growing industries. One example is Greenville Technical College’s new partnership with Facebook and the Carolina Code School to train local business managers on how to better use digital advertising. According to Dr. Miller, many discussions about workforce development are centered on the skills gap in the manufacturing industry; however, this problem also exists in digital fields. To address this need, the program will prepare students with in-demand digital marketing skills. Originally, the program started as a partnership between the college and the Carolina Code School. By extending the partnership to Facebook, Greenville Technical College will be able to scale up its coding program and Facebook will benefit by having more businesses’ managers trained in using its digital advertising tool. Students will start by participating in a 12-week coding boot camp and then continue their education at the community college, receiving prior learning assessment credits for their coding course work.

Additionally, Tri-County Technical College is also developing apprenticeship models in fields ranging from banking to healthcare. An advisory board consisting of industry professionals is assigned to each program. This ensures that the curriculum aligns with workforce training to best serve the students’ and employers’ needs. Like Greenville Technical College, Tri-County Technical College focuses resources on outreach to high school students. The college has also received state funding for outreach to underemployed and unemployed individuals aged 25 –55 throughout the state.

Allison Beer is the Senior Policy Analyst for ACCT. She can be reached at abeer@acct.org. Jacob Bray is the Associate Writer for ACCT and he can be reached at jbray@acct.org.

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