Skip to main content

Greenville Business Magazine

Anderson County Schools Help Prepare Next Generation of Workforce

Jun 14, 2023 11:07AM ● By Angelia Davis

Former South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt often said, “We make things in South Carolina.”

The same can be said of Anderson County, according to Burriss Nelson, director of Anderson County Economic Development.

The county, situated in the northwest reach of the Upstate, is home to over 200 manufacturers of tires, medical devices, automotive parts, power tools, floor care, outdoor equipment, and much more.

As the list of manufacturers and industries continues to grow, so does the county’s future manufacturing workforce. That is due partly to access to manufacturing job-ready skills and technical career pathways provided by Anderson County high schools and two career centers.

While other counties hover in the 16 percent range, with service sector and education taking the bigger chunks of the labor force, Anderson County’s manufacturing labor force is approximately 22 percent.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Nelson said. “Anderson County has five school districts. We have a really good working good relationship with all five (districts) and really good communications. We’re in and out of all of the schools, especially the high schools and the school districts, working with and collaborating with the counselors and teachers, offering them opportunities to do industrial tours, to help them understand that industry is not the sweat shops of the long past,” he said. “They are clean, cutting edge, and technologically driven.”

The Anderson County Economic Development Office focuses on connecting students to opportunities in manufacturing that are uncertain of their future after high school.

For students in Anderson County School Districts 1 and 2, which includes Belton-Honea Path, Palmetto, Powdersville, and Wren high schools, offerings of a manufacturing career pathway can be found at the Anderson I & II Career and Technology Center (ACTC).

The center is an elective course primarily for 10th through 12th grade students.

The center is a special purpose district created in 1970 and is one of, if not the largest, career center in the state, said Hollie Harrell, ACTC’s director.

The center, which has just under 2,000 students, offers welding, mechatronics, and engineering in its manufacturing cluster. And right now, Harrell said, enrollment in those programs is skyrocketing.

“It’s crazy, which is great,” she said.

ACTC has an automotive technology facility because of generous donations from industry. The center is accepting donations from industry to build a new CNC facility.

ACTC’s budget is approved by the Anderson County Legislative Delegation, unlike other career centers in the state.

The center is composed of a school-wide advisory committee as well as program advisory committees. For example, its welding program has an advisory committee made up of local welders, business owners, and the technical college.

“The advisory committees guide us in what the outcome looks like,

and what the school and current pool looks like,” Harrell said.

Harrell believes the demand for manufacturing courses is very dependent on the jobs in the area.

There are some major players in Anderson County as far as businesses, she said, and Arthrex, Michelin, and Bosch are among them.

“The solidification of those good paying jobs, I mean, our parents see that. They work at those places and make good money,” Harrell said.

“I think those parents see the importance of a well-paying job, a good quality of life, and that you can still live in Anderson County. To me, what sells manufacturing in general is that outlook.”

In 2018, Belton-Honea Path High School opened its own Introduction to Manufacturing classroom to serve about 100 students per year.

Ben Woody, the agricultural education teacher at BHP, said after the former District 2 superintendent asked him if he’d be willing to launch the school’s manufacturing class, he talked to leaders at the industries and manufacturing plants about the skills and trade they seek in potential employees.

He said the curriculum of the program at the high school differs from those at the career center in that his students are afforded a more comprehensive and in-depth set of skills.

A student desiring a career as a welder would sign up for welding at the career center and would work to obtain a welding certificate.  The entire focus of their studies would be welding, Woody said.  A student attending the Introduction to Manufacturing at the high school would be exposed to a plethora of manufacturing skills, not just welding.

Industry, like anything else, is always changing and evolving, Woody said.

“It’s the same thing with our program,” he said. “I try to change the curriculum and keep it up to date and basically provide the students with a skillset that will transition to a wide variety of manufacturing fields, which is the whole goal.”

Since the launch of the BHP program, other local high schools have begun developing similar programs. One of those schools was Anderson County School District One Palmetto High School.

When students graduate the manufacturing program, they have the skills to go straight to work in the manufacturing industry, with high-paying jobs.

“You have to have a workforce in the area to attract industry,” he said.

He cites, for example, Arthrex, a global medical device company that bought an entire business park in Sandy Springs. When the company completed phase one of their project, “they had enough positions to hire most CNC operators in Anderson County,” Woody said.

BHP students have taken advantage of the newly developed youth apprenticeship program at Arthrex.

BHP introduces the manufacturing course to middle school students when they tour the school. The students then get to see the different programs offered at the school and are basically able to build their schedule around what they’d like to take.

In 2013, Anderson County passed a penny tax to support projects such as the creation of the Anderson Institute of Technology. The institute serves students in Anderson County School Districts 3, 4, and 5, which includes Pendleton, Crescent, T.L. Hanna, and Westside high schools.

The institute has a manufacturing wing, which includes engineering, machine tool, mechatronics, welding, automotive technology, electrical heating and air, smart systems as well as fire and rescue.

The institute has approximately 1,300 students, of which probably 40 percent or higher are enrolled in manufacturing, according to James Couch, AIT’s executive director.

Welding, machine tool, and automotive technology are maxed out in enrollment, he said.

A student who goes through the machine and mechatronics program will acquire certification as part of the program and have an option of going directly to work after they graduate. The student can also combine work and technical college in their certificate degree pathway.

Most of the manufacturing students are either going directly to work or the associate degree program.