Sumter industries have 400+ openings because of economy, skill gaps

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 2/6/18

A generally healthy labor market and skills gaps explain why Sumter County has more than 400 industrial job openings, according to the chairman of the county's Economic Development Board and a state economist.

Sumter Development Board Chairman …

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Sumter industries have 400+ openings because of economy, skill gaps

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A generally healthy labor market and skills gaps explain why Sumter County has more than 400 industrial job openings, according to the chairman of the county's Economic Development Board and a state economist.

Sumter Development Board Chairman Greg Thompson and University of South Carolina Research Economist Joey Von Nessen made their comments last week concerning a recent count by development board staff of available job openings at numerous manufacturing plants in the county, such as BD, Kaydon, Eaton, Continental Tire the Americas and Caterpillar.

This is not a Sumter-only issue. Industry officials have said they're even willing to educate and train their own workforce.

Von Nessen said Sumter's current industrial job openings total is consistent with trend data he studies on other counties throughout the state and the U.S. overall.

The upside to looking at the county's available manufacturing job openings is it reflects the current healthy job market that exists in most parts of the country, Von Nessen said.

Both the state and the national current unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sumter County's current unemployment rate is 5.2 percent. As the unemployment rate lowers, it makes sense that it's harder to find skilled labor looking for jobs, according to Von Nessen.

As a result of the strong economy and job market, Von Nessen said, the current monthly job openings rate at the national level is at its highest level in the last 15 years.

"From the perspective of workers in general, this is the best job market for workers that we've seen in this current economic expansion going back to 2010," Von Nessen said.

As far as job growth from 2010 - the low point of the last recession - through 2017, South Carolina's annualized average job growth rate has been 2.4 percent, according to labor statistics data. Sumter County's annualized job growth rate since 2010 is 1.4 percent.

Thompson agreed that Sumter's economy is at its best level in quite some time.

The other factor contributing to the more than 400 current industrial job openings in the county and thousands more statewide is a skills gap, Von Nessen said. Those can be categorized, he said, as technical, job-specific skills needed in today's advanced manufacturing technology environment and soft skills such as teamwork and showing up to work on time.

As a general rule, industrial jobs at plants pay markedly more on average than retail jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources.

Von Nessen said in his work in the Division of Research at the Moore School of Business at USC, he conducts numerous surveys of the state's manufacturing companies. He said from those surveys, current workforce skills gaps and finding skilled workers is the No. 1 concern of business leaders across the state.

Given economic market conditions are currently strong, the skilled workforce issue is challenging in the state.

"One of the things we've been saying is this emerging labor shortage is going to be the major bottleneck on economic growth for South Carolina this year," Von Nessen said. "The market fundamentals are very strong and look good. But if we are going to get to a level of economic growth that's significantly higher than where we are now, then that labor force shortage is going to be something we have to address."

Both Von Nessen and Thompson agreed that the technical college system in South Carolina, such as Central Carolina Technical College based in Sumter, is critical for providing required skills in today's manufacturing setting.

"We've got job opportunities available in Sumter, and we are trying to work diligently with K-12 education and post-secondary education to train our workers to fill these jobs," Thompson said. "That's the goal."