Editor's note: This column originally ran in the Feb. 24 edition of The Post and Courier.
Bobby Hitt, head of our Department of Commerce, is very proud of his bringing aerospace companies to South Carolina, but he has failed to motivate the …
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Bobby Hitt, head of our Department of Commerce, is very proud of his bringing aerospace companies to South Carolina, but he has failed to motivate the General Assembly to improve public schools.
Nonetheless, Frank Hatten, an education relations specialist at Boeing, is taking a direct approach to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics in public schools and build a pipeline of South Carolinians working in the aerospace industry.
I met Hatten on a recent group visit to the mammoth Boeing plant in North Charleston. We took a bus through the initial checkpoint and drove around an assortment of giant white buildings. We saw an array of new Boeing 787 aircraft sitting on a ramp, each in the distinctive colors and logos of airlines from around the world.
Inside the final assembly building, we were escorted to a top floor classroom. There, we were shown camera pods and microphones in the ceiling and admonished that what we said or did would be recorded. No photos allowed.
What followed was a 45-minute PowerPoint lecture on how Boeing works with high school students in South Carolina to encourage them to learn more about aerospace theory, science, design, assembly, flight and evaluation and to be eligible for training that could lead to a job at Boeing.
This is all impressive, just the effort that Boeing makes to get high school students qualified to work at this Boeing plant of about 7,000 workers.
After the lecture, we were escorted to the second floor, where, for a few minutes, we could look down, unobstructed, on the six or so aircraft being fitted with interiors and engines.
We were told that our group, members of the S.C. Aviation Association, was indeed fortunate to be able to visit the plant, since visits are highly restricted. We would not be allowed to tour the shop floor, we discovered, since that is a privilege, Hatten said, extended only to potential aircraft purchasers.
I draw three conclusions. First is that the Boeing facility is secure. Second, that Boeing is investing, with a good return, in the education of secondary school students. Third is that our public schools are the weakest link when Boeing and other plants need to find educated and trainable workers.
BMW, the first, in 1993, of a series of automotive assembly plants in South Carolina, has about 10,000 people at its Greer plant, is successful in providing accelerated, focused education for years in, for example, its BMW Scholars program. High school graduates work as apprentices on the factory floor while completing a two-year technical college program.
Both BMW and Boeing, as well as many others in industry, are obviously competent in workforce development, building advanced cars and airplanes.
But the S.C. Coordinating Council on Workforce Development, created by the General Assembly in 2016, had only one industry representative named in the 2017 annual report - Michelin. In contrast, the nine other members are public sector administrators, most without any direct industry experience.
The council's mission, to "engage in discussions, collaboration and information sharing concerning the state's ability to prepare and train workers to meet current and future workforce needs," appears unmeasurable.
Let's work with educators, like Hatton, in our major industries, with our public school teachers, with those students being educated and trained, with top leaders in the public sector, like Hitt, and with our General Assembly to measurably improve our public schools as well as the industry-based training of South Carolinians.
Emerson Smith, Ph.D, is a sociologist and president of Metromark Market Research in Columbia and a member of the Richland County Aviation Commission. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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