A Hub for Higher Education

BMW Group employee demonstrating inner workings of an engine to a student.
BMW Group

The push for talent is on across Spartanburg like never before. Employers, educators, and local organizations are coming together to close the talent gap by building bridges and pathways to help Spartanburg County’s students find their way into the workforce.

Spartanburg’s position is unique – home to seven school districts and seven institutions of higher education – each equipping students with skills for various positions in the post-graduate world.

The amount of jobs available in and around Spartanburg has exploded in recent years, with 19,000 jobs available in a 1.5-mile radius around the heart of the Hub City, reinforcing employer’s needs to entice recent graduates into the workforce.

“As Spartanburg’s economy continues to grow, preparing and retaining homegrown talent is increasingly essential to building a strong and thriving workforce,” states John Stockwell, executive director of the Spartanburg Academic Movement.

The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) primarily works with the county’s K-12 student population. SAM is a member of the StriveTogether Network, a national organization committed to data-defined targets of academic achievement at every level with partnerships between educators, corporate leaders, foundations, governments and faith communities. StriveTogether partners make up a national network of organizations working to identify and drive cradle-to-career improvement.

The organization, and more specifically, the work being done in Spartanburg, has earned national acclaim after a visit from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and a prominent feature in The New York Times.

SAM, fueled by data showing that some 75 percent of all jobs will soon require additional training or education, has worked to boost education across Spartanburg. That way, high school graduates leave school ready for either a career or college – where more career training will occur.

“Equally important is work on student opportunities to explore career options through internships and apprenticeships, enabling them to see how learning in school applies to career scenarios, and helping them identify fields of study to explore before committing to a post-secondary track,” Stockwell said.

College Town, a consortium that includes Converse College, Sherman College of Chiropractic, Spartanburg Community College, Spartanburg Methodist College, the University of South Carolina Upstate, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) and Wofford College, recognizes that internships are crucial for students to set up professional networks and intimate connections with employers. Fifty-three percent of jobs come directly from internships or contacts made through them.

In partnership with the Spartanburg Chamber’s OneSpartanburg initiative, College Town is challenging local employers create more internships for Spartanburg area college students. The challenge includes thinking outside of the box to identify mutually beneficial experiences, and building relationships with institutions and degree programs they may not have considered before.

While companies across the Upstate have long partnered with area schools, now, as talent becomes a widespread need, even more employers are connecting with educational institutions to create talent pipelines.

“We don’t have a people-looking-for-jobs problem, we have a jobs-looking-for-people problem,” said Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “We need to do whatever we can to make sure people willing and able to work can work.”

SCC’s corporate and community education program partnered with AFL and Byrnes High School to start a program called Operation Workforce Training, designed to get more high school and community college students into manufacturing jobs. Ten high school seniors take an intro to manufacturing class taught by SCC professors sponsored by AFL.

At the end of the program, students earn their high school diploma, a college certificate and a WorkKeys score, all in preparation of them being able to hold down a job in the manufacturing sector.

“These partnerships/connections help the students make informed career decisions and also help companies build a talent pipeline and “name recognition” to increase their talent pool. Because of the significant labor shortage in Spartanburg County, pooling our resources is more important than ever,” said Spartanburg Community College President Henry Giles.

Converse College has worked with Milliken to arrange job-shadowing opportunities for its students. Milliken personnel are loaned out to work with Converse students on real-world scenarios employees deal with as a sort of supervised training, shining a light on what students could expect to be challenged by if they were to get a job at Milliken.

Partnerships between colleges are key, too. To address a shortage of nurses, USC Upstate announced a partnership with North Greenville University. Participating students’ first three years would be completed at North Greenville and their final two years would be at USC Upstate, in either Spartanburg or Greenville.

To tie it all together, OneSpartanburg launched an Education2Employment initiative to create a formal connection between business and education partners. One result is a talent council that will develop, test, incubate and measure work-based learning strategies to align with current and future needs in equity, policy, programs, system change, leadership and measurement.

The effort will also identify degree and certificate programs that are absent or in need of further development or promotion; create a countywide definition of and measurements for the skills, life and career characteristics on the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate.

Ultimately, Spartanburg’s collaborative approach to education and employment is strengthening our talent pool to fill jobs that are open now and the jobs of the future.

“The war for talent is real, and we have no choice but to win it,” Smith said.

Article seen in BusinessView, created by the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with community partners. It is an informative resource guide to learning about the economic vitality and lifestyle environment of Spartanburg County. Readers of BusinessView will receive important information about Spartanburg’s thriving community, including economic indicators, business profiles, and community initiatives, and educate themselves through legislative updates, advice from business owners, and more. Read the full issue at www.spartanburgchamber.com/businessview or grab a printed copy at the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.