“The driving question isn’t, ‘When will the jobs come back?’ But rather, ‘Where will the jobs be and what skills will they require?’”
So says a report on workforce development from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA), which asks the community to think differently about how to prepare tomorrow’s workforce. Instead of focusing on job titles, prospective employees and employers should focus on the skills necessary to perform the functions they need.
Likewise, educational institutions must recalculate what they teach to students to prepare them for 21st-century career success. Less memorizing geometry theorems and more critical thinking. Or adding a customer service component to a logistics course.
“The Lowcountry Graduate Center is part of the solution by ensuring that the outcome isn’t just the acquiring of a degree but the ability to produce a worker ready with the skills that employers need,” said Tina Wirth, senior vice president of talent advancement at the Chamber.
The Real Job Skills
Indeed, the Talent 2020 report lists these 10 foundational skills for all jobs, few of which are taught in school: customer service, problem-solving, organizational skills, interpersonal communications, math, grammar, critical thinking, attention to detail, time management, and information processing.
Institutions also need to collaborate to produce more candidates for in-demand careers and fewer for careers of the past. In the Lowcountry, that means the five clusters that are providing most of the job growth: aerospace, automotive, life sciences, IT, and advanced logistics. The Lowcountry Graduate Center’s mission is to help bring to the region advance study in the disciplines required for these opportunities.
A review of key job skills among various industries finds that while the job titles vary, the skills overlap. Manufacturing and construction both require workers who can operate equipment and read work orders, blueprints, and diagrams. Expanding the pool of potential construction employees to include those with manufacturing experience and training them on the terminology of construction could help ease the labor shortage in that industry. Transferable skill sets also expand opportunities for individuals to advance when changing work sectors.
“Everyone has a role to play and employers need to participate in the solution by not overlooking potential talent sources,” said Jacki Renegar, director of research and business intelligence at CRDA.
Lots of New Jobs – But Not in Your Field
The report estimates the creation of 28,000 new jobs in the Lowcountry over the 2019-2024 period. Roughly 18,000 of those, according to the report, will occur in hospitality, production, healthcare, logistics, business operations, and retail. That is even after accounting for the effects of COVID, particularly on the hospitality industry.
In a webinar on the report, Renegar pointed to examples of how skills enhancement could boost opportunities, particularly for those lacking college degrees. The Walmart distribution center being built in the Ports Authority industrial park near Ridgeville pays $28,160 for a retail salesperson, but with some skills upgrades in logistics that worker can graduate to inventory specialist at $39,570.
Racial Justice in the Workplace
The report documents barriers facing Blacks and Hispanics: access to healthcare, transportation, and treatment in the criminal justice system. It also notes the lack of well-connected colleagues to lubricate the transition into and through the workforce.
“For an individual who doesn’t have the same access to social capital that a white middle-class worker might hold, the opportunities to ‘upskill’ and grow their career path are limited,” said the chamber’s Tina Wirth. Social capital refers to one’s network of contacts to open doors, advise, and mentor as a role model.
The report notes the percentage of jobs filled by whites, are generally high-skill, high-income positions, while those filled by minorities are low-skill and low-income. For example, in computer technology, engineering, and science, 85% are white; in education, legal, and the arts and media – 80% are white; and among healthcare professionals, 79% are white. A majority of healthcare support and maintenance jobs are filled by Black and Hispanic workers.
The Chamber and CRDA commit to understanding these barriers and working to address them. “Using a skills-forward approach to get workers into living-wage jobs in high demand will require an intentional focus on helping Black and Hispanic workers overcome barriers while working to alter the systems that perpetuate the inequities,” the report says.
A Business Imperative
This commitment is not charity; it is business-friendly. A more effective, skills-first approach to training and hiring can expand the talent pool and better link worker skills with employer needs in the Lowcountry. For many industries struggling to recruit and retain talent, this could reduce costs and improve operational efficiency. Until now, businesses, individuals, and educational institutions have not been on the same page.
“This might be the first time I’ve heard us broadly talking about it,” said Renegar. “We’re hoping to make this a broader conversation.”
Recognizing that an educated populace is a key to economic growth and well-being, the LGC works to identify graduate certificates and degrees that will help meet the workforce needs and ensure that local students have access to the resources necessary for career advancement in the Lowcountry region.