One of the selling points for Boeing to come to South Carolina in 2009 was a strong technical school system, according to Tommy Preston, director of national strategy and engagement and government operations for Boeing S.C.
He said that same technical school system will continue to support Boeing, as well as other advanced manufacturing in the state.
The Oconee Economic Alliance recently hosted Preston and Frank Hatten, director of education programs at Boeing S.C., for a discussion on the importance of science, technology, engineering and math to careers in advanced manufacturing.
“We believe that we have an obligation as a company to help the people of South Carolina understand the importance of advanced manufacturing and STEM careers, and not just the aerospace industry,” Preston said. “There are still parents and guidance counselors who tell their students not to go to tech school, not to go into advanced manufacturing.”
Preston said that even though there are companies and jobs regularly being announced in the state, workforce continues to be a challenge.
“The thing that keeps us up at night is, what’s going to happen when these companies continue to grow and they need more and more people?” he said. “We have to make sure South Carolina is prepared for that.”
Preston and Hatten have visited every county in the state to talk about the importance of skills needed for advanced manufacturing. Oconee County was their last stop on what they call Boeing Days. Preston said the intent of the program, started about a year ago, is to introduce Boeing S.C. to the entire state.
“We like to say we’re here to learn, inspire and engage,” he said.
The Boeing executives want to learn about communities across the state, inspire students, families and schools to prepare the next generation of workers, and engage the communities, families and schools in discussions, tours and education about Boeing and advanced manufacturing.
“One of our messages is the importance of technical education. We know that every kid that graduates from a school here (in) Oconee County is not going to go to a four-year institution, and that is okay,” Preston said.
Hatten’s work as director of education programs puts him in the position of seeing and hearing the challenges in preparing a skilled workforce for advanced manufacturing. He said a high school graduate can go to work for Boeing, BMW, Michelin or Amazon with a high salary. He said opportunities for educational advancement exist at many manufacturers across South Carolina.
“When we go across the state, even though we’re Boeing and we’ll talk about aerospace, we talk more about STEM and advanced manufacturing,” Hatten said. “Not enough people in this state understand that no child should be concerned about employment. We have all kinds of jobs here, and we have a system in place, with the school system and the technical school system, that can train our young people for great-paying careers.”
Hatten said it will take a collective effort on the part of companies, schools and communities to make sure the state doesn’t miss an entire generation of young people, whose work could transform the state.
But students and families have to understand the importance of education to support advanced manufacturing requirements. He pointed out the difficulty he sees new Boeing workers have passing the math portion of the company’s training process, which is set at 10th-grade algebra level.
Hatten said families, students and guidance counselors still don’t understand that the advanced manufacturing companies coming to the state create a challenge if the skilled workforce isn’t available. Preston said the last thing Boeing S.C. wants to do is look for workers outside of the state.
“Boeing spent $2 billion to be here in South Carolina. If we don’t have the workforce ready here, we’ll have to go to Georgia or North Carolina or somewhere else to get people and bring them here, and that’s the last thing the company wants to do,” he said.