Over the next five years, nearly 26,000 new jobs are forecast for the tri-county region, according to an update to the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Demand Study.
A shortage of local talent, specifically for production jobs, is forcing some employers to recruit workers from out of state, which is a concern for chamber CEO and President Bryan Derreberry.
“We’ve gotten by in the past by attracting talent from other places, and now all 386 metropolitan statistical areas of the United States are facing the same thing we are: baby boomer retirement,” he said in early August, speaking at an event held by the chamber and Trident Technical College on education in the region. “So the regions that develop their own talent are the regions that are going to win with regard to future economic development and prosperity in their metro areas.”
Mary Graham, chief advancement officer at the chamber, said she thinks the prediction of 26,000 new jobs is “woefully low.”
“I think it’s more like 40,000 jobs in the next five years in our community,” she said. “The gap of those particular, what we call the high-demand fields is accelerating for us.”
The biggest shortage in the tri-county is for general assemblers and fabricators. In 2014, 25 people in the Lowcountry were awarded degrees in that field, which now produces 838 annual job openings beyond the college graduate output, Graham said.
“We don’t have enough people wanting those degrees,” she said.
Over the past two years, the gap between college output and the number of assembler and fabricator jobs has increased by 350%.
“We’ve gone from a couple hundred annual job openings in that particular field in 2014 to over 800 annual job openings due to Boeing, Volvo, Mercedes and other manufacturers in our community,” Graham said. “We’ve got to help educate our youth that manufacturing today in our community is a fantastic career choice.”
She said manufacturers now work in a high-tech environment with high salaries and a great benefits package — contradictory to the stereotype of manufacturing as a dirty, low-paying job.
“As I tell people all the time, you can practically eat off the floor of a manufacturer in our community today,” Graham said.
Medical secretary jobs, which require a certificate degree and have a $30,000 starting salary, also have seen a significant jump since 2014. The demand has grown 235%, with 37 degrees granted in 2014 and now 213 annual job openings, Graham said.
Other fields experiencing shortages are accounting support, software developers, aerospace mechanics, IT security analysts and network administrators.
“All of these jobs pay amazing wages in our community, way above average,” Graham said. “So you can go into any of these fields, whether you’re coming straight out of high school or you’re going on here to Trident for an associate’s degree or on to Charleston Southern University or one of our other four-year institutions, you can step into a career in this community that’s going to be a long-term growth opportunity for you.”
Filling jobs with local talent
The talent demand study said 39% of technical and high-wage jobs in the region were filled by better-educated workers who moved from out of state. About 31% of jobs went to people who were educated in the Charleston metro area, and 23% went to S.C. residents from outside the Lowcountry.
“We want them (local students) to have the opportunity for these great jobs that are being created in our community,” Graham said. “We love the fact that people are moving to our community, and we welcome them here, but we don’t want to leave our own youth behind.”
To help create a pipeline for local talent, the chamber started Career Academies in 2013 — the program now operates in 22 high schools — as well as a Youth Apprentice Program. Each year, employers agree to hire and mentor high school juniors and seniors. When the program is completed, the student apprentices walk away with a high school diploma, a Trident Tech certificate, a journeyman credential from the U.S. Department of Labor and two years of paid work experience, the chamber said.
The 2017 class of Youth Apprentices includes 75 students who will work for 65 employers in five industry sectors: contractual services, health, hospitality and culinary, IT and manufacturing.
Marquel Rolack-Smalls, who graduated in May from Woodland High School in Dorchester County, is now a student at Trident Tech and an apprentice at Venture Aerobearings in Ladson. He said he became an apprentice because he thought it would give him the best chance to get into the school of his dreams, Clemson University.
“I wanted to have something different on my college resume and my college application than all other students,” he said.
Karen Winningham, a human resources specialist at Bosch, said the apprenticeships are a win for everyone involved.
“When the youths come in, they’re just like a sponge,” she said. “The mentors at our facility just jump in and can’t wait to transfer that legacy knowledge.”
Kim Wilson, principal at R.B. Stall High School in North Charleston, said the apprenticeship program provides students with exposure to the workforce and a dream.
“I think so many kids today are looking for something to grab a hold of,” Wilson said. “Our students, they need something that will awaken them. That’s what a job does. I’ve seen kids who just flounder along in education, and then all of a sudden they get to go work at Bosch and they see this machine and that machine does something to them. I don’t know what it does — it wouldn’t do anything for me — but it does something for them. It turns them on. Then, as a result, they get the connection between education and career.”
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 5, 2016, print edition of the Charleston Regional Business Journal.