PENDLETON --- Over the last decade, 29-year-old Devin Williams has worked as a camp counselor, a sales clerk in retail and a waitress in restaurants  -- all minimum-wage jobs that had her struggling weekly to make ends meet for her and her two children in the small town of Bossier City, Louisiana.  She wasn't alone, she says; her co-workers also struggled financially and they often talked about juggling two jobs that together didn't equal a living wage.  "I was always just getting by with no clear path or options to move forward," said Devin.

The opportunity for gainful employment finally changed when she and her husband, Harvey, moved to Seneca and discovered the South Carolina Manufacturing Certification (SCMC) class taught though Tri-County Technical College's Corporate and Community Education Division. 

"Our lives will change for the better because of this course," Devin said of the 10-week SCMC program, a quick, yet comprehensive training route for individuals seeking to enhance their skills and to secure full-time employment as operators in manufacturing.

The SCMC training is a 200-hour curriculum that includes the opportunity to earn 11 nationally-recognized credentials. Topics include industrial safety, quality, blueprints and measurement, production processes and some basic understanding of industrial equipment and maintenance.  Participants may earn an OSHA 10-hour safety card, a Lean Six Sigma yellow belt certification and national MSSC credentials in safety, quality, production systems and maintenance awareness which translate into stackable credentials for college credit.

"The SCMC certificate gives applicants a leg up and many employers consider it to be equivalent to a year of industry experience," said Ron Humphries, associate program director for the Center for Workforce Excellence at Tri-County. 

Since 2013, more than 500 area individuals have enrolled in the SCMC training program that has been called an answer to the serious workforce skills gap that has left businesses and industries without a pipeline of the skilled workers needed in today's rapidly-changing economy.

Recently a report released by the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) ranked Tri-County third nationwide among individual testing centers. The College has awarded a total of 2,236 credentials.  SC ranks fifth in the nation among the 30 states that offer these programs. 

MSSC's M& L Certification Index is a data-based resource that companies and state agencies can consider in their decision of where to locate a new plant or distribution center.  The availability of a robust pipeline of highly-skilled workers is a key factor in these decisions.  A substantial number of MSSC CPT and CLT certified technicians is a solid indicator of the commitment of that location to filling that pipeline.

Devin and Harvey are pursuing four credentials including safety awareness, quality assurance, production processes and maintenance awareness.  Those who earn all four credentials receive a Certified Production Technician certificate.

For Harvey, it's a chance to gain the knowledge and skills he needs to provide for his family. He and Devin have three children.

Unlike Devin, Harvey, 36, headed to a four-year university on a football scholarship after high school. When he graduated, he started a career working on an offshore pipeline - mainly because of its earning potential.  "It was a great paying job. I was very comfortable.  But an offshore oil field job is a young man's job," he said.  He was 22 when he started but nine years later, it was taking a toll on his family life and left him limited time to spend with his son. 

He met Devin, who had two children, they married, and they moved to the Upstate after learning about industry leaders recruiting individuals with electrical and mechanical skills needed for today's workplace.

Harvey was hired as a temp in local manufacturing.  But he learned he needed more certifications to move up.  He visited SC Works, looking for a full-time job with benefits. "They told me about MSSC, a great opportunity to earn national certifications at no charge to those who qualify for scholarships." 

Scholarships are available and come from various sources.  Students apply for grant funds and can qualify for under employment grants. Most applicants receive some financial aid.  Harvey and Devin received scholarship through AIM.

"A class at no charge is almost unheard of," said Devin, who also was interested.  While in Louisiana she took Industrial Readiness Training and earned an OSHA certification.  "I like hands-on work," she said.

They both enrolled in the class which runs from 8 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Monday - Friday.  She works as an operator at a local plant from 3:30 - 11:30 p.m. and Harvey worked the 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. shift as a material hands at another plant until recently when he was hired at BMW. 

"Those of us in class will be the frontrunners for jobs when we graduate.  We are learning the skills needed to do the jobs local companies are looking for.  The instructors want us to succeed.  Coming here was the best move I've made.  It was a game changer," he said.

Devin was hired for her job on a break between SCMC classes when a local manufacturing employer was visiting CCE.

"I want to succeed.  I want to do as much as I can to be the best that I can," she said. "This class will help me achieve that."

"The instructors motivate you. They are quality people who care," said Harvey, who plans to further his education with a Mechatronics certificate.  Devin plans to pursue a CNC operator certificate.

"This course is not a stepping stone - it's a lift," she said.

Goodwill Industries offers incentives - when you pass a certification test, you get $100.  If you find a job during the course or 30 days after the course ends, you get $50.  If you keep your job within 90 days, you receive another $100 stipend. AIM provides gas cards based on attendance.

"The incentives are motivation.  I sleep only a few hours a day but I will do anything and everything to better my family. It's a short-term sacrifice."

"With this program, there aren't many excuses not to be successful," added Devin.

"Mid-level industry jobs are out there, but there aren't enough qualified applicants to fill them," said Corporate and Community Education Division Program Manager Richard Parker, adding that sixty-five percent of the jobs in our area require above a high school diploma up to and including an associate degree.

"The training prepares individuals to be work ready from day one," said Humphries.

"We treat the class like a job -- you must be on time and ready to work.  In class they earn an OSHA 10-hour safety card, a Lean Six Sigma yellow belt certification and a national MSSC credential in safety, quality, production systems and manufacturing awareness, which translates into stackable credentials for college credit," he said.

After they pass the last certification exam, participants receive eight hours of simulation training where they apply the quality, safety, and lean manufacturing skills learned in class. 

"Employers have told us the course can reduce on-the-job training by six months because individuals come in with knowledge and need very little training to be successful on the job.  Students learn technical and manufacturing skills and their credentials demonstrate to employers their dedication, good attitude, attendance, tenacity - all attributes that employers are looking for," said Humphries.

At the end of the course, employers visit Tri-County to interview the students. 

"Many participants have been unsuccessful, bouncing from plant to plant, but once they enter the SCMC class, it's rewarding to watch those who are almost hopeless realize that their goals are achievable and they can graduate and be successful," said Katie Reeves, training coordinator/instructor for the Center for Workforce Excellence.

"Even for those with years of experience and education, the course connect the dots because the courses pair experience with knowledge," she said. 

"Even the experienced will see things that they haven't seen before," said Humphries.

For more information contact Katie Reeves at 646-1728 or