by Barry Waldman
A program established by the governor in July of 2021 to help unemployed South Carolinians qualify for jobs in heavy demand has six months under its belt and could be considered a limited success.
As the state eliminated the federal $300 unemployment pandemic bonus it simultaneously instituted free training in 11 high-demand career fields that would qualify as a job search for anyone receiving unemployment benefits.
The $8 million program waived tuition and fees for individuals receiving unemployment insurance who attended one of a series of vocational courses. The courses are designed to prepare graduates for awaiting jobs in no more than 16 weeks. The courses are provided by the state’s technical and community colleges.
The purpose of the program is to prepare more residents for the most promising career paths while reducing the labor shortage in key state industries like health care, manufacturing and supply chain.
Results Underwhelming but Still Helpful
Of the 100,000 unemployment claimants in June and July who were emailed about the programs, 6,199 signed up and 4,144 enrolled, according to the South Carolina Technical College System. It was unable to report the number who have graduated or are still matriculating.
Across the state, health care, despite (or perhaps because of) the Covid pandemic, drew the largest number of enrollees in programs for patient care technicians and EMTs with 1,639. Courses for manufacturing and construction were the next most popular. Only three people signed up for the childcare specialist course, according to the South Carolina Technical College System.
In the Lowcountry, 337 individuals entered the program at Trident Technical College and 78% of those responding to outreach reported that they had achieved employment. That suggests at least 22% did not finish the programs or seek employment in their fields, since employers are ready to hire anyone who earns a certificate.
Why So Few Registrations?
Kelly Steinhilper, vice president of communications for the South Carolina Technical College System, admits that the number of people taking advantage of the training was lower than the state had hoped. It is not sufficient to significantly reduce unemployment or the labor shortage in the targeted industries.
Part of the issue may be the result of the state’s limited marketing efforts. After announcing the program, it sent emails to unemployment claimants once in June and once in July, but none thereafter. It did not reach out at all to those who became unemployed after July.
Cathy Almquist, vice president for education at Trident Tech, noted some technical issues that prevented registration, such as the requirement for the patient care technician course that students already be Certified Nurse Assistants. In other cases, classes did not start right away, when demand was the highest.
Possible Expansion of Training Programs
Technical and community colleges across the state already offered many of the courses requested by the state. For example, Trident Technical College had established a basic manufacturing course that taught the fundamentals of Lean Six Sigma, OSHA and MSSC and prepared graduates for the many open manufacturing jobs in the Lowcountry. The course was created in response to demand for workers with some knowledge of the field from Boeing, Volvo, Mercedes and other local manufacturing companies.
Governor Henry McMaster has proposed in his fiscal 2022 budget using $124 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to continue the program for two years and expand its reach to all state residents regardless of employment status.
Many people were hoping the training program would become permanent. Tim Hardee, president of the S.C. Technical System, noted when the program was first created in June 2021, “The key to South Carolina’s critical workforce lies in quick training and education programs geared towards high-demand fields.”