S.C. Statehouse Report
Nov. 23, 2003
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/03.1123.tech.htm


HOT ISSUE
Technical colleges can be key to economic future
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NOV. 23, 2003 - - Take a look at South Carolina's network of technical colleges and you'll realize something quickly: they're not just for hands-on training for trades jobs any more. In fact if tech colleges keep playing their cards right, they'll soon be on the forefront of the new job revolution in the state.

In the 1960's, technical colleges focused on short-term training to give trade skills to workers so they could enter the manufacturing and services work force. Then, like now, they provided training in everything from mechanics and welders to cosmetologists and paralegals.

But over the last few years, technical colleges have been reshaping their missions to morph into a new level of supporting the state's quest for better and more jobs. These days, they're also providing intensive multi-skill training opportunities to meet the needs of today's and tomorrow's employers.

While the state currently is focusing a lot of economic development activity on endowed professorships and growing research at major universities, technical colleges have a great opportunity in the future to help create new jobs by providing practical training for the worker of the future, says Mary Thornley, president of Trident Technical College in North Charleston.

"The research universities are not implementers; they research," she said. "The two- year colleges are the ones who need to take the research and make it practical."

By serving as implementers, technical colleges can translate research, which will create new business opportunities, into practical, specialized skill sets for workers who want to learn.

Charles Gould, president of Florence-Darlington Technical College, says his school is well on the way to being a training implementer for the new economy.

Next month, his college will kick off the beginning of a three-phase, 320,000-square-foot, high-tech training facility that will offer advanced manufacturing training. He said the $34 million Southeastern Institute for Manufacturing and Technology will generate graduates who can work in next-generation sophisticated, consumer-oriented manufacturing facilities. New facilities will need workers to operate millions of dollars of computer-assisted equipment and manufacturing robots.

Gould said companies will move to South Carolina because the state will have manufacturing workers with multiple specialized skills for biotech, agribusiness and other industry sectors. In the long run, employers want to ensure they have a sustainable work force that can handle next-generation jobs.

"If we can establish a niche that we can support the training needs for high-tech manufacturing, we will be in a very good spot," Gould said.

   

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FEEDBACK: Accountability is why superintendent should change

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Other technical colleges are busy training future skilled workers. At Greenville Tech, there's a successful retraining program called "Quick Jobs" that seeks to help displaced workers get new skills in three months so they can rejoin the work force. At Trident Tech, administrators are seeking final legislative approval for a new $20 million facility to generate highly-skilled culinary jobs. With the approaching loss of 1,380 students in the Charleston area due to the closure in Charleston of Johnson & Wales University, the technical college is gearing up for a four-year culinary arts program.

"People who train as professionals at technical colleges can develop career paths," Thornley said. "That part (the culinary industry) of our economy is not slowing down."

Federal labor statistics show 85 percent of jobs in the country require 14 years of training - - high school and two more years, Thornley said. And that, she added, secures the future of technical colleges to provide new kinds of high-tech, health care and information technology training to augment traditional industrial training.

"It's clear to us that we're still in the business of job creation because technically-trained people can earn good salaries."

In the coming year, look for more technical colleges to push the envelope to offer new training opportunities that run parallel with the state's increasing emphasis on research. By universities research and technical colleges working together, they'll deliver a one-two punch that will make South Carolina a better, more diversified, higher-paying place to live.


McLEMORE'S WORLD
Royal blush

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:



FEEDBACK
11/7: Accountability is why superintendent should change

To the editor:

You missed the main point of why the head of the Dept. of Education should report to the Governor instead of the General Assembly (11/2 column). It's called Accountability. How can anyone be held accountable for their actions when they are accountable to so many
people. By this method, you increase rather than decrease the politics of education. Right now Ms. Tennenbaum (sic) and those before her report to everyone and no one. Is that not a recipe for arrogance and single mindedness. Perhaps this is why we have a Dept. of Education that is overloaded with Bureaucrats and why so many educational decisions
are made in Columbia and not in the Counties. Is this also the reason that the Charter School movement, while exploding in other states, is being thwarted here.

There is a lot more to the story that you are either being told or understand. In the future, do a little more research. Remember, over 60% of the state budget is for education. Is this not too much power entrusted in ONE individual?

-- Tom Hatfield, Hilton Head Island

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