South Carolina Needs New Models for Skills TrainingDec 23, 2021 12:24PM ● By Dr. Susan Emmerich
As the U.S. emerges from the pandemic, discussions are focused on the future of work and learning. Rapid deployment of remote technologies during Covid-19 transformed our understanding of where and how these collaborative activities can happen.
We should not, however, limit our reimagining on how we do our jobs, go to school, and receive training. Now more than ever, the country also needs to rethink how learning and employment dovetail over a lifetime.
Just as the traditional office is giving way to unique, hybrid work arrangements, our existing concept of skills training must evolve. The fact is, education and work are no longer an either/or proposition. Today’s employees will be tasked with acquiring skills throughout their careers. Because of this new “knowledge economy,” an urgent need exists to redefine on-the-job training to meet these challenges – to continually upskill the workforce and invite a more diverse generation into the fold.
There could be no better moment for such change. South Carolina’s unemployment rate stands at 5.1 percent. Workforce participation is down, as some individuals who have been jobless for months gave up hope. Women and people of color have been disproportionately affected. And some experts predict it could take years to replace the jobs lost in 2020.
At the same time, manufacturers are working hard to find skilled employees to fill their open positions. According to research from The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, the modern manufacturing industry will require more than 4 million more workers this decade, but more than 2 million jobs will go unfilled unless we can train individuals for these exciting, well-paid, and often high-tech opportunities.
An expensive degree program cannot be the only option for aspiring young people and job changers. Already, Americans’ student loan debt has reached $1.7 trillion, an increase of more than 100 percent over the past decade. Countless minority, middle class, and low-income families are rightfully concerned about investing large sums without strong return-on-investment guarantees that a rewarding career will follow. Individuals with financial responsibilities including children, spouses, or parents often cannot take a break from a current job to pursue the education required to secure a better one.
Realizing what is at stake, I was ecstatic when BASF leaders decided to create an apprenticeship program and charged me with implementing it. BASF is the world’s leading chemical company, and we recognized the importance of becoming more actively involved in training workers with the skills we desperately need. We also realized that our goal of welcoming more women and people of color into our ranks can only be achieved if we break down access barriers to training.
It took months to strategize, plan and forge partnerships with organizations like South Carolina’s Tri-County Technical College and Spartanburg Community College, but over the past several months, four BASF sites across the state have launched apprenticeship programs through BASF’s new North American Apprenticeship Development Program (NAADP).
The NAADP program launched at BASF in Seneca and Converse this summer and is now recruiting its second cohort for the Seneca site, along with its first cohort of apprentices at the White Stone and Clemson sites. The program offers extraordinary opportunities to its participants, and applications are open now. Participants will receive up to three years of on-the-job training while pursuing an industry-recognized credential. This is a true “earn while you learn” opportunity. BASF will pay apprentices a competitive wage along with full benefits and paid vacation; cover the cost of tuition, books, and fees; and immediately place graduates in full-time positions in our organization. Prospective manufacturing professionals need only bring their ambition, curiosity and love for creating – BASF will handle the rest.
Our hope is that this apprenticeship program will serve as a model on which others can build.
The talent-building initiatives that will enable manufacturing in South Carolina and America to reach its full potential will also make ours a more diverse, inclusive, creative and resilient industry – one I’m prouder to be part of every day, and one the Upstate area can also be proud of.
Dr. Susan Emmerich is the Project Implementation Manager for the North American Apprenticeship Program at BASF. Learn more and apply at www.basf.us/apprentice.