Boeing Takes Flight with Help of Technical Colleges

A number of state and local political leaders are being praised, and deservedly so, for their role in bringing Boeing’s second 787 Dreamliner production line to South Carolina. I can’t mention all the names here, but they did some amazing work to attract such a highly sought after business.

But I would like to call attention to one of the key elements of our success in securing Boeing — our technical colleges. The exceptional efforts of Trident Technical College led by its outstanding president, Dr. Mary Thornley, and her superb staff, as well as those of Dr. Barry Russell, South Carolina Technical College System president, and the system’s top-notch workforce training program, readySC, are worth noting. Without their exceptional work we might not be celebrating today.

Attracting high technology companies in today’s ultra-competitive environment is a complex and demanding game. Various kinds of incentives, including tax adjustments and infrastructure investments are expected — if you don’t offer them you’re not going to be a player.

Quality of life issues make a difference as well. Everyone knows that South Carolina scores well with weather and geography, though we shouldn’t forget the centrality of other issues, notably health care, where Charleston’s great medical school, MUSC, has an anchor role. The city’s vibrant arts environment as well as its ambiance and natural amenities are key factors as well.

Ultimately, though, a large-scale manufacturing business needs capable workers. The days when ‘capable’ meant doing simple and repetitive tasks, or just being reliable and energetic at lifting materials, are long since over. Machines now do that sort of thing.

Today’s ‘capable’ worker is one who can take on challenging technical tasks such as supervising machines that must maintain exceptionally tight tolerances.

Today’s ‘capable’ worker also has to be a problem solver. He or she must understand what is happening in a production area and, working as part of a team, must be able to anticipate problems in production and help develop solutions before systems have to be shut down.

Finally, today’s ‘capable’ worker is prepared for tomorrow’s processes as well as today’s. Once, skilled people in manufacturing were taught to function well in a particular process and nothing more. That’s no longer good enough. In today’s kinetic technology environment, a technique that at first seems so basic that it will never change could last just a few years before becoming obsolete.

When the old process goes down, the workers can’t go with it. They must have the core knowledge and abilities to learn the new approach and to quickly adapt it to effective production.

Where do you go to prepare workers with these 21st century capabilities? South Carolina’s Technical Colleges. With deep experience in offering education programs in an array of technical areas as well as their widely acclaimed workforce training programs, their leaders have the experience necessary to design programs that balance training for specific skills with the knowledge workers will need to adapt to change.

From the perspective of workforce, Boeing’s decision on Charleston was anything but a shot in the dark. Since 2006, readySC, in close collaboration with Trident Technical College, has successfully trained over 1,400 workers for the predecessor companies acquired by Boeing.

The college, in cooperation with readySC, had already shown that it could add the required classrooms and laboratories with remarkable speed and efficiency and, most importantly, deliver the workers prepared to meet the demands of Boeing.

Again, well-deserved kudos to our state’s leaders. But let’s add Mary Thornley and Barry Russell and their staffs to the list of those we recognize. And let’s take the larger view and put higher education at the top of the list when we think about economic development. The world has changed. Well- paying, stable jobs for unskilled high school grads are gone and not coming back. The workforce of today needs post-secondary training, or an associate degree or a baccalaureate or higher. The best economic development incentive is a highly educated workforce.

– Dr. Garrison Walters


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