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.”
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.