Industry executives: Region needs degrees to match jobs

Boeing South Carolina Vice President Jack Jones said the region needs to focus on producing more science, technology, engineering and math graduates for the manufacturing sector. Charleston Chamber Senior Vice President Mary Graham said legislators, industry leaders and educators need to focus on producing degrees that local companies need. (Photo by Liz Segrist)
Boeing South Carolina Vice President Jack Jones said the region needs to focus on producing more science, technology, engineering and math graduates for the manufacturing sector.
(Photo by Liz Segrist)
Charleston Chamber Senior Vice President Mary Graham said legislators, industry leaders and educators need to focus on producing degrees that local companies need.
(Photo by Liz Segrist)

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published March 11, 2014

For each of the next five years, 180 new computer programming jobs are expected in the Charleston region — but only 17 of those degrees are being awarded annually, according to a recent study.

The same is true for other industry sectors that are growing locally. The jobs being created do not match the degrees being offered and the graduates being produced.

The manufacturing sector is expected to create 200 jobs annually for each of the next five years, but 12 manufacturing certificates are awarded locally on an annual basis. For industrial engineering, 15 degrees are awarded annually for the 76 annual jobs expected for each of the next five years.

Roughly 25,000 new jobs are projected for the Charleston region in the next five years, said Mary Graham, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president. The chamber hired Avalanche Consulting to conduct the “gap study” to show how the degrees produced compare to the available jobs in the area.

“We have significant gaps, and we must move quickly to fill them, or the projected job growth will not occur because there won’t be an available workforce to fill them,” Graham said at the chamber’s Economic Outlook Conference Thursday.

The region’s economic landscape has changed dramatically over the past two decades. The economy relied on the federal defense industry until the Navy base left. It has since transitioned to rely on technology, manufacturing, aerospace, the Port of Charleston, health care and tourism, among other sectors.

“We have successfully diversified with growth in manufacturing and now an explosion in the IT sector,” Graham said. “Lots of jobs are being created, but as we talk to employers, a disturbing trend is occurring: Jobs that are being filled are being recruited from outside the region.”

Boeing South Carolina Vice President Jack Jones said the region needs a focus on science, engineering, technology and math degrees to support the local aerospace and manufacturing sectors.

Jones said the region needs to develop a more skilled workforce that can operate high-tech tools in a stressful manufacturing environment that requires error-free, on-time manufacturing every time.

“Having a pipeline of trained workers is a huge issue here in South Carolina ... We need math. We need science. We need engineering. It is absolutely critical for this region to have a STEM pipeline,” Jones said.

Over the next five years, computer and software positions are expected to grow by 20%; science and engineering jobs by 16%, sales and marketing positions by 14% and medical openings by 13%.

The study shows the Charleston region has a surplus in business, finance and educational administrator degrees and a shortage in software, engineering and manufacturing degrees.

Graham said she absolutely supports newcomers coming to the region but also wants to ensure local residents have the opportunity to earn degrees locally that are relevant to job opportunities here.

The study’s second phase, likely to be released in April, will recommend strategies on how to address the region’s workforce training gaps.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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