Last year, the folks at Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina, noticed a major problem: What do you do when lean manufacturing jobs come to town but your local population isn’t qualified to fill them?
It was big news back in 2015 when Volvo announced its first-ever American factory in Berkeley County. It would be the home of all new S60 Sedans, and experts at the College of Charleston said it was expected to bring in 2,000 direct jobs to start, 4,000 for the long term, and 8,000 total impact including associated jobs.
This disconnect came with Volvo’s strict employment policy: Entry-level jobs required at least one year of manufacturing experience. As I’ve talked about many times before, for decades we’ve been telling our schoolkids they have to go to a four-year college if they want a successful career. Now we have young adults saddled with student loans and a skills gap in good-paying, respectful careers in manufacturing.
So as the plant’s opening drew nearer, the Continuing Education department came up with an idea: Develop a program that trains residents to qualify for those entry-level positions. That’s how the ManuFirstSC program for lean manufacturing started.
“When Volvo came to town, we said, ‘Hey, we want our local population to apply for jobs,’ ” said Victoria New-Carter, the assistant director of programming for Continuing Education and Economic Development at Trident Tech. “Our population didn’t have a ton of manufacturing experience, so we created the program and Volvo said we’ll accept that as one year of manufacturing experience.”
Tomorrow’s software users start as today’s entry-level employees
The Trident ManuFirstSC program takes students through the basics of lean manufacturing. The five-month course covers OSHA 10 certification, safety, history, soft skills (such as employability, conflict resolution, team-building), production, terminology, quality, audits and maintenance.
Since they launched the program in June 2017, New-Carter said the program has “caught wildfire” across South Carolina. ManufFirstSC is now available across the state’s community college system, and many other manufacturers have followed suit to allow this training in lieu of one year of experience.
The program is aligned with the state’s ManuFirstSC Grant program. It completely covers the cost of tuition, background checks and drug screenings for the course. There are 84 grants available for Trident Tech’s next session, which will run from January to May 2019.
The school will host three free information sessions this month for local residents to learn more about the upcoming session:
- Tuesday, Dec. 4, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Trident Tech Berkeley Campus Library, 1001 S. Live Oak Drive, Moncks Corner
- Wednesday, Dec. 5, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Dorchester County QuickJobs Training Center, 5164 E. Jim Bilton Blvd., St. George
- Saturday, Dec. 8, 10-11 a.m., Trident Tech Thornley Campus (formerly Main Campus), 7000 Rivers Ave., North Charleston, Building 910, Room 122
Grant applicants must be at least 18 years old, reside in South Carolina, have legal U.S. work status, have a high school diploma or GED, have proof of a Silver WIN/WorkKeys score, pass an SC SLED background check, pass a basic panel drug screen, and enroll in the SC Works Online Services system.
While the program covers the basics, it allows the participants to get a foot in the door for lean manufacturing. New-Carter agreed that today’s entry-level position will be tomorrow’s supervisor or operations manager.
At Practical Software Solutions, we routinely work with the IT Directors and CFOs when we’re selling and implementing enterprise management software. However, thanks to lean manufacturing, the people who come up through a program like ManuFirstSC will eventually be on the shop floor or in the distribution center using a Sage product to help with their day-to-day operations.
Turning the tide for lean manufacturing jobs
While ManuFirstSC is relatively new, New-Carter said they’re beginning to see an impact in their community.
“It’s really cool when you get to hear stories from people who have been in the program are now working at Volvo and have improved their situation,” she said. “The industry has bought into this and has been able to work and successfully built a pipeline.”
Even though the program has been a success, New-Carter said they’re still struggling against the tide of negativity that has been ingrained in society over the past few decades against skilled labor. However, she said that attitude is slowly — very slowly — starting to turn around from “four-year college of bust.”
“I think the predominant idea is still go to a four-year college, get a four year degree,” New-Carter said. “That’s not really setting you up for a job like this. There’s more and more people starting to see things differently, and we’re always talking about how we get people to see what type of training they need.”
We’re always excited to see programs like this succeed. We’ve seen many of our customers see manufacturing come back to life over the past few years, but we know they’re struggling filling entry-level jobs, too. And without those employees on the ground manufacturing the products and setting them up for distribution, there’s no need for the IT Directors and the CFOs of the world.
While ManuFirstSC is only available for South Carolina residents, I’ve seen articles from other states where similar programs have started. If you’re a manufacturer looking to find a pipeline of entry level employees, I recommend checking with your local community or technical college, or your local Economic Development commission. If there isn’t one in your area, consider helping to launch one.
“It’s definitely a fun program to be a part of and I’m just glad we got to create it and put it into the world — and it’s been really successful,” New-Carter said.