Charleston: Its Workforce Programs Have Become National Model

Charleston: Its Workforce Programs Have Become A National Model

From programs at Robert Bosch, to regional and now national programs, the apprenticeship model has been successful at attracting and retaining talent.

Karen Winningham has had a very interesting and fulfilling career.

Thinking she would have a service career, her path changed when she began working for Robert Bosch LLC as an operator in port fuel injection for the gasoline systems division. After ten years in this position, she decided to apply for the company’s apprenticeship program. She was accepted, specialized in machine tool technology and graduated three years later. That program enabled her to become part of the skilled labor workforce at the company where she worked as a mechanic.

But her story doesn’t end there. She became an instructor for the apprenticeship program and was part of the group that moved the apprenticeship program from industrial mechanics to mechatronics in order to prepare for the future.

“The opportunities I received as part of this apprentice program has given me a career that I never thought I would have,” explains Winningham. She is currently the senior HR partner and was part of the team that launched the Youth Apprenticeship Program at Bosch Charleston.

The apprenticeship program at this site, based on the one in Germany, has been around since 1979 and had graduated 390 people. One of many measures of the strength of this program is the fact that retention of employees in this program is five times higher than external candidates said Winningham. And the average tenure for a skilled labor associate is seventeen years.

“This program has allowed us to continue to attract talent to our company, but there is an overall shortage in manufacturing so we are happy to join with other organizations to push the apprenticeship model forward,” says Winningham.

One of the organizations in the area that has been active in expanding the apprenticeship model is Trident Technical College. “In 2013, we started a youth apprenticeship program,” explained Melissa Stowasser, Dean and Director of High School Programs at Trident Technical College."We started with six manufacturing companies and now we have 130.”

The program is a favorite of companies since the students earn a high school diploma, a certificate from Trident and 30 credit hours towards an associated degree. They also earn a journeyman’s credentials. They have many choices at graduation and can move directly into the workforce, or continue on towards a higher degree.

The program has a very specific structure. “This program is completely industry owned as they approached us. They choose what entry-level courses they want. We recruit the students and send over eligible candidates.  In turn, the employers hire and mentor the students. They page wages for students and provide on-the-job training.” This collaborative process works smoothly, “We make it easy for our employers as we do the legwork and recruiting.”

A National Model

Success with this high school program led to a pilot engineering program announced last year lead by the Charleston Regional Youth Apprenticeship Program, the US Labor Department and Project Lead the Way. Inc. (PLW)

For this program, students are eligible for the apprenticeship program after completing two PLTW Engineering courses, Introduction to Engineering Design and Principles of Engineering, at their high school. Students can continue the PLTW Engineering pathway through their junior and senior years as they pursue their apprenticeship. Participating employers include Boeing, Robert Bosch, Charleston County, Mobile Communications, and Thomas and Hutton, which have committed to hiring and mentoring high school-aged apprentices as engineering assistants.

And the success continued this year when the Charleston Regional Youth Apprenticeship Program was part of a national program called Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA). On  October 26, 2018, a group called New America announced this multi-year initiative that will support efforts in states and cities to expand access to high-quality apprenticeship opportunities for high school-age youth.

“Shoring up the link between education, economic opportunity, and social mobility is critical for renewing the American promise,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America, in a statement announcing the partnership. “Youth apprenticeship is a time-tested model perfectly-suited for employers who need skilled workers and young people who need affordable pathways through college and the skills, experience, and networks that come with a real job.”

Over the next four years, PAYA will convene experts and partners, support a community of practitioners, publish research, and provide grants and direct assistance to promising youth apprenticeship programs in cities and states across the U.S.

Charleston Talent Pipeline

Sourcing talent is an on-going concern for this city.  “As companies continue to grow in our area, we need to source talent,” explains Claire Gibbons, Director of Global Marketing & Communications, Charleston Regional Development Alliance

 A recent study supports this view. The 2018 Talent Development Study Update, released in October, found that In the next five years, the Charleston Metro Area will add nearly 35,000 new jobs. That number is 32% higher than the 2016 study’s five-year job growth prediction. Included in the growth are production and mechanical jobs. Engineering jobs are expected to grow by 14% by 2020.

The job growth is fueled by large employers such as Boeing (7,000 employees) and Bosch (2,000 employees.)  And in June of this year, Volvo announced a new $1.1 billion plant in the area employing 1500 by the end of 2018 and creating 4,000 total jobs over the next few years.

These large companies are quite aware of their talent pipeline and in October Boeing announced a massive, $100 million investment in the workforce. This will affect the Charleston location as well.

All of these large companies growing in the area is causing some unexpected concern. “As these large employers come to town, smaller companies are getting concerned about finding talent,” says Gibbons.

However, there is some good news on that front as the available labor pool is increasing. From 2010-2016 it has grown four times the national U.S. average and twice as fast as the rest of the state.

Reaching out to this expanding population and enticing them into manufacturing will be the measure of success. “The most important thing is to reach out and network with other companies, groups and educational institutions,” says Winningham.  

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