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Leaders seek solutions for skilled worker shortage

By Liz Segrist
Published Dec. 6, 2012

Upstate manufacturers need more skilled workers to fill open positions.

Following ZF Transmissions’ announcement to build a transmissions plant in Laurens County, and Bosch Rexroth’s announcement of its largest expansion in Fountain Inn, the manufacturers have struggled to find enough skilled workers, company executives said.

Panelists put forth potential solutions to help fill the skilled workers’ pipeline for the region’s advanced manufacturing hub at GSA Business’ Power Hour Wednesday.

Panelists said educating students in K-12 of advanced manufacturing opportunities, including tours of local facilities, would inform students of the careers and high salaries that are available in the region. Both parents and schools need to be a part of the conversation, they said.

“We have a skills gap. We have a challenge as parents and as a community to make a shift in culture,” said Upstate SC Alliance President and CEO Hal Johnson, a panelist. “There’s an attitude that we don’t want to go work in manufacturing.”

Previous coverage
Apprenticeship programs help fill workforce pipeline
ZF seeks CNC machinists, engineers
ZF Group to expand plans for Laurens County
IN PRINT: ZF recruiting businesses to S.C.
ZF Group recruiting suppliers for S.C. facility
Bosch Rexroth recruits in Texas
Execs: Manufacturing renaissance needs capital, workers
Bosch announces largest investment in Fountain Inn

Johnson and Tri-County Technical College President Ronnie Booth support the creation of a program where high school students could graduate with both a high school diploma and certificates from a technical college in manufacturing skills, such as mechatronics.

Booth said he’s been in discussions with local superintendents about potentially implementing this option at area high schools.

Ann Angermeier, Upstate Workforce Investment Board executive director; Herb Dew, Human Technologies Inc. president; Mike Edmonds, ZF Transmissions senior human resources manager; and Mike McCormick, Bosch Rexroth vice president and technical plant manager, were the other panelists.

To train more workers, technical colleges offer programs for in-demand skills, such as CNC or welding. Some companies invest to train their own employees, while others do a combination through apprenticeships in which students undergo technical college courses and in-house training.

Bosch Rexroth made its largest investment in history in Fountain Inn last year when it announced an $80 million investment and 160 new jobs. The company has hired more than half of its goal thus far, but it has been a struggle.

“After the announcement, when Gov. Haley pulled away in her black suburban, I had my first moment of terror, followed by many others, about finding skilled labor,” McCormick said. “You don’t know until the job fairs what you’re going to find.”

Bosch Rexroth’s initial job fairs in the Upstate would result in around 4% success rate out of 700 people. The manufacturer began hosting job fairs out of state without yielding any results.

The drive and control company decided to focus on training local workers through an apprenticeship program in conjunction with Greenville Technical College. Bosch Rexroth began its apprenticeship program about three years ago and it has since doubled in size.

ZF Transmissions, which plans to hire 1,200 at its Laurens County transmissions manufacturing facility, has hired more than 300 people thus far. Edmonds said the company is in need of skilled workers, especially those with testing, assembly, mechatronics and CNC expertise.

The German manufacturer is working with Piedmont Technical College and SC Works, in addition to implementing an apprenticeship program and sending more than 100 employees to Germany for training.

Human Technologies Inc. works with companies, such as Bosch Rexroth and ZF Transmissions, to hire skilled workers for their available positions. The Upstate Workforce Investment Board trains youth and builds and maintains a workforce investment system in Cherokee, Spartanburg and Union counties.

“Students don’t necessarily have to have a liberal arts degree to make great money and have a great career,” Dew said. “How can we get qualified workers into these jobs now so that we can get the next big company into South Carolina and sell them on our workforce?”

Subscribe to read the full story in GSA Business’ Dec. 17 issue.


Added: 7 Dec 2012

Another comment during this well-attended and informative meeting concerned the need to inform school-age students about the skills they will need to get good jobs and specifically where those high-demand jobs will be when they are ready to join the workforce. Junior Achievement of Upstate SC, celebrating its 40th anniversary in this area, delivers carefully developed programs for K-12th grade students in their schools, taught by corporate and community volunteers, focusing on work readiness skills, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. We agree that the transition time of 8th-9th grade is a critical time to impact these students. Our objective is to be part of the solution to the skills gap in the Upstate. See for more information.

Connie Lanzl