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Viewpoint: The American worker is the backbone of our thriving economy

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Labor Day, to many of us, is the reason for a long weekend at the end of the summer. But the day has greater importance than hamburgers on the grill and family gathered to enjoy them. Labor Day celebrates the contributions of American workers and the role they have played in making the country what it is today.

According to a U.S. Department of Labor history of the holiday’s origin, a parade of unions and a massive picnic took place in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. At the time, the labor movement was growing, and local unions sold tickets to the event, with the proceeds going to support the individual organizations. The parade started small, with only a handful of workers joining in, but it grew, and by the time marchers reached the park where the picnic would be held, 10,000 people had come together in support of workers.

After that initial event, individual states held similar celebrations and created state holidays. With support growing for a national recognition of workers, Congress in 1894 took the necessary steps to make the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the U.S. that recognizes the contributions of the American labor force.

For community colleges, Labor Day is a chance to recognize the role we play in building that labor force. Technical colleges were introduced in South Carolina in the 1960s to attract new business and industry to the state. Leaders knew that the area’s greatest asset was its people, and that if those people had the education and skills to meet the needs of employers, the state could create a stronger business base.

The plan worked. First Michelin established its North American headquarters in the area, and then BMW located in the Upstate along with many other companies of all sizes representing a wide variety of sectors. As a result, Greenville set itself on the trajectory we enjoy today, successfully transitioning from a textile hub to an economic powerhouse that attracts people and companies from all over the nation and the world.

Technical colleges not only give companies considering a move the skilled labor they need to succeed once they arrive, but two-year institutions are also agile enough to support the changing requirements that business and industry face. When workforce needs advance, we evolve to meet the challenges companies face now and in the future.

That agility equipped us to create our Center for Manufacturing Innovation to help advanced manufacturers close the gap between their workforce needs and the skills of the workforce. It means that in answer to changing requirements at Greenville Health System, we’re developing programs for medical scribes, advanced certified medical assistants, and community health workers. And agility is allowing us to respond to the teacher shortage in South Carolina by partnering with Clemson, Public Education Partners, and Greenville County Schools on a program to create educators for the middle school and high school levels.

Partnering with employers ensures that they have the workforce they need to prosper and grow. That close relationship with business and industry ensures that the students we graduate have skills that are relevant to the job market, so they can begin work well equipped to make a contribution and add knowledge that allows them to move up, demonstrating the transformative power of education.

Labor Day is a celebration of the American worker, and Greenville Technical College is the source for many of those workers and for the continuing education that keeps the workforce strong. We will be closed on Labor Day as we celebrate this holiday that recognizes the mechatronics technician who keeps advanced manufacturing running, the nurse who heals us, the technician who maintains the plane we travel in, the bookkeeper who manages financial records, the supply chain manager who contributes to the company’s profitability, and all the American workers who have built our country and are keeping it strong.

On Oct. 6, we’ll have another chance to celebrate the American worker and the partners who work with us to ensure they are well prepared when we host Community Fest on our Barton Campus from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bring your family for a fun day of learning through hands-on activities and demonstration booths. You can experience 3D printing, an ambulance simulator, culinary tips, calligraphy, chair massages, and much more. Most of all, we hope you’ll see that we play a central role in educating Upstate workers and equipping area companies with the skills that keep our economy moving.

Keith Miller is president of Greenville Technical College.

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