CLEMSON --- Two years ago business, industry and education partners gathered to strategize and develop action plans to encourage high school students to choose careers in advanced manufacturing.

"The goal was to develop action plans to increase the pace and number of high school students who are pursuing technical degrees in preparation for careers in advanced manufacturing," said Amanda Blanton, director of high school engagement and outreach at Tri-County Technical College.

"We left with lots of good material used to form Curriculum, Counseling and Communication and Middle School Committees - all with the goal of communicating with students and their parents about technical career pathways and how they meet the needs of today's workplace," said Blanton.

Industry and education leaders reconvened March 3 for the second annual business and education forum to hear updates on what has been accomplished and what programs are on the horizon to encourage high school students to choose careers in advanced manufacturing.

Technical Career Pathways (TCP) Program

In just two years Tri-County's Technical Career Pathways (TCP) program has grown from seven students in one district to 166 students from all seven school districts, Blanton reported.  The program gives students a head start on college, allowing them to complete an associate degree in a technical program within one year of full-time study after high school. 

Blanton has worked with public school officials and business and industry leaders for more than two years to develop this unique technical career pathways program with school districts to provide students with the employer-defined skills needed in advanced manufacturing and other STEM-related careers.

A $1 million state-funded proviso is making it possible for these high school students to take college courses in technical career pathways with little or no out-of-pocket cost.  Tuition and related expenses are funded under the proviso. 

            Each program is unique to each district and includes pathways for Automotive Technology, Mechatronics, Industrial Electronics, HVAC and Welding.  In addition to developing pathways to support advanced manufacturing, this year Blanton expanded pathways in health, business and public services programs.  Like the technical pathways, students may be awarded TAP credit for articulated high school courses and begin taking college courses that give students a head start toward their associate degree.

"The programs are growing and we hope to have even more pathways," she said. 

For the first time last fall, students from four high schools in Anderson and Oconee County School Districts were enrolled in a basic Welding class taught at the College's Industrial Technology Center (ITC) in Sandy Springs.  

Ten students -- seven seniors and three juniors from Belton-Honea Path, Crescent, T.L. Hanna and Seneca high schools -- were enrolled in Welding 111 through the TCP program.  In addition to the 10 TCP Welding students at the ITC, there were 18 TCP Welding students at the Anderson 1 and 2 Career and Technology Center in Williamston for a total of 28 TCP Welding students last fall.

"There are amazing students in the pathways classes and they are experiencing many successes," said Blanton.

The forum's keynote speaker, Larry Smith, retired manager of Schneider Electric in Seneca, said, "Technical Career Pathways classes give students a running start.   After one year in the pathways classes in high school and one year at Tri-County, graduates can land a job at Schneider Electric making $40,000 a year straight out of school.  That's not a bad start.  In three years, they can earn $60,000 and have no college debt because of the efficiency of these programs," he said.

"A clear path.  A great starting point.  No debt. These are just three of the many selling points of the Technical Career Pathways program," he said.

Unique Training and Career Opportunity

Manufacturing folks are always striving to develop a pipeline of talent - one way is to work closely with Tri-County and its career services program, said Smith.

Another unique training and career opportunity for Tri-County students is through Häring USA, a leading global manufacturer of precision components and subassemblies for the automotive industry.  Selected students move to Germany, where they attend an academy with students from other colleges and universities, and study as trainees, along with attending daily classes while immersing themselves in the German culture.  They train to be team or group leaders at the company's new U.S. facility set to open in Hartwell, Georgia, in 2017.

"This takes their educational experience and sets them up for career opportunities in ways we've never seen a company do before," said Cheryl Garrison, job placement coordinator at Tri-County. "They will learn the business from the ground up, including reading, writing and speaking German," she said. 

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm going to go for it," said Trenton Stamey, a former Technical Career pathways student and 2015 Westside High school graduate, who was among the 12 Tri-County students recently accepted into the Häring program to train for three years at the company's Bubsheim, Germany, facility.  Stamey is a Mechatronics major.

He was among the first TCP graduates who received a basic electricity certificate in 2015 before he graduated from Westside High School.  "Career pathways classes gave me the confidence I needed to go to Germany.  It will be exciting to move to Germany for two years," said Stamey, who has never been outside of the country.

A total of 35 individuals will be selected by Haring and will come back to the United States as a start-up group for the new plant in Georgia. 

Ian McCraw, an Industrial Electronics Technology senior, who was a member of the first TCP (Basic Electronics) class who graduated with a high school diploma and a college credential in 2014, left for Germany on January 2, 2016.

Partnerships Create Pipeline for Skilled Workforce

"We have so many partnerships with business and industry," said Blanton.  "This is a great way to create a pipeline for a skilled workforce."

Kenneth Buchanan began Tri-County's Mechatronics program last fall as a third-semester student with more than 20 college credits and a silver WorkKeys® certification.  He gained on-the-job experience at TTI Power Equipment in Anderson last summer through a WorkLink paid work experience, while earning more certifications through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and ServSafe.  Kenneth plans to graduate from Tri-County within a year -- debt free -- thanks to the State proviso that paid for pathways classes, along with a LIFE scholarship and Pell grant. 

"I never thought I could accomplish my future career goals in so little time and with so few obstacles. That does not mean the journey has been easy," said Buchanan.   "I never knew there was a program designed to get me into a job I will love, one that will support myself and my future family for years to come, and so many people interested in helping me get there."

He added:  "I also felt really proud of myself because I was a step ahead of many of my peers; I had taken the initiative and taken advantage of opportunities generously offered to me by Crescent High School, WorkLink and Tri-County. Now not only does my resume reflect the basic electronics certificate I earned from TCTC prior to my high school graduation, it also shows several months of work experience at a respected manufacturing facility. My work at TTI is not over. I am very happy that they have asked me back for the coming summer and I look forward to developing new skills and further improving skills I already possess."

Three years ago Mechatronics instructor Mark Franks read an article forecasting that 65 percent of South Carolina's workforce would be retiring in the near future.  "That time is now," said Franks. "We must keep a pipeline of young folks coming and the only way to do that is through individuals like Michael Dayne Chandler, a Wren High School senior who is a third-year Tri-County Mechatronics student taking dual enrollment classes at the Anderson 1 and 2 Career and Technology Center.

 "When I first started the Mechatronics program I was not really sure if it was the profession that I wanted to pursue," said Chandler.  "After being in this program, I am certain that this is the correct career path for me. With the skills that I have learned I am positive that I will be successful in the Mechatronics workforce."

Chandler's goal is to graduate and obtain a good paying job in the Mechatronics field while pursuing a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.  He urged for continued funding for dual enrollment.  "Funding dual enrollment helps all students.  Funding is the key to establishing an educated workforce and giving students a chance for success," he said.

Martha Baker, a counselor at the Hamilton Career Center, believes if kids find their passion, they will be successful and happy. She tells students to find what they enjoy and go do it.

Paige Johnson, a senior at Walhalla High School, has done just that.  She completed one year of auto body classes and now is in the welding program.  She will transfer enough credit for four classes through Technical Advanced Placement to Tri-County when she enters the welding program next year.  "Why welding, a non-traditional field for women, many ask me.  Because I'm passionate about it. I will leave high school ahead of the game and be able to work while I'm in school," she said.  Her goal is the graduate with a welding degree and get a great job. 

Tri-County Mechatronics major Hoke Durham is a "shining example" of how apprenticeships and co-op programs can lead to a full-time job in manufacturing, says Jeromy Arnett, production administration manager at United Tool and Mold in Easley.

Arnett met Durham when he was a 10th grader at Daniel High School and he recruited him to work in the company's co-op program.  At 16 Durham was hired and worked 40 hours a week, six days a week.   He later graduated from the youth apprenticeship program at United Tool and Mold. 

"When we talked about who is the best student for the adult apprenticeship program, Hoke's name came up every time," said Arnett.  Durham was selected for the apprenticeship and today is a leader at the plant. "He is the best employee we could ask for," said Arnett.

"The apprenticeship showed me what I wanted to do with my life," said Durham. 

"We have to start early.  This program builds the workforce of tomorrow," said Arnett.

"I hope we can hire every single student we have seen and heard from today," Mike Oster, human resources manager at Michelin US10, said to the business, industry and education stakeholders during a panel discussion held at the end of the forum. "We need this talent in the future."

Panelists agreed that the answer is to do a better job of branding and make manufacturing more interesting to students and their parents.

"Tri-County does an excellent job of connecting with manufacturers - asking what is needed and what is changing to keep aligned with workforce needs," said Smith.

"But we manufacturers have a responsibility here, too," he said.  "I always hear we can't find good people. We can't throw our hands up and walk away.  We have to identify them, hire them and develop them.  Also connect with the school district folks and express concerns you have.  You have to be active and engaged by serving on advisory committees and teaching as an adjunct instructor at Tri-County," he said.

The Business and Industry Expo II was hosted by The Clemson Center for Workforce Development, Partnership for Academic and Career Education, Tri-County Regional Education Center, S.C. Department of Commerce and Tri-County Technical College.