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Joe Wilson

Joe Wilson

In April, I held an apprenticeship forum at Midlands Technical College, hosted by President Ron Rhames, with experts from the fields of technical education and manufacturing to discuss ways industry and education can come together to address the growing skills gap. We must work together to ensure that the next generation is able to find quality jobs that support a meaningful life.

According to a recent report by ReadyNation and MissionReady, 62 percent of South Carolina’s jobs in 2020 will require postsecondary education of some kind, while only 55 percent of South Carolinians will have that required level of education. This critical skills gap needs to be addressed and career and technical education provides an excellent opportunity for advanced education that aligns with the needs of South Carolina’s workforce.

During the apprenticeship forum, I discussed the need for the Senate to pass the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, introduced by Glenn Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, and promoted by Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. This bill provides essential funding for CTE programs and increases flexibility for programs to focus on meeting the specific labor demands in their communities.

Quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and training is vital for competing for high-skilled, in-demand jobs in the workplace, which is why apprenticeship programs are an important part of building a thriving workforce in South Carolina. We also must reduce barriers to entry for postsecondary education by encouraging colleges and universities to provide flexible education schedules that will allow students to have a job while obtaining a degree.

The leaders in manufacturing attending the apprenticeship forum discussed the need for mentorship programs that would provide students with on-the-job training, an income and a chance for certification at the end of the program. They also noted the positive potential for providing tuition assistance for their workers, allowing them to obtain an associate degrees while simultaneously ensuring that manufacturers maintain a skilled workforce. This mutually beneficial relationship helps workers, manufacturers, and South Carolina.

Whether I am visiting one of the remarkable schools in the 2nd Congressional District’s technical education system, including the technical colleges in Aiken, Midlands, and Orangeburg-Calhoun, or a local manufacturing facility, the message is the same — the job market is changing rapidly and it is our duty to prepare accordingly.

I am grateful that South Carolina has been successful in using CTE programs that partner with businesses and create jobs. An example of an important industry-educational partnership is the coalition between Boeing and ReadySC, a division of the South Carolina Technical College System.

Boeing and ReadySC coordinated at each point in the educational process -- working together to develop curriculum and provide materials for a simulated work environment that prepares students for the real job. The success of this partnership is clear, and overwhelmingly positive, resulting in prehire training of more than 4,500 ReadySC graduates.

We must continue to work together and discover new ways to ensure the next generation can effectively compete for 21st century jobs. To reach this goal, we must advance programs and ideas that support students and job creators, which will build prosperous communities all across South Carolina.

Republican Joe Wilson represents the 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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