Labor force development was a major topic in the tight labor market before COVID-19, and it will become a big issue again as the economy recovers. A recent study of apprenticeships by the Brookings Institution and Opportunity America shows the marked superiority of apprenticeship training for manufacturing over more traditional two-year and four-year college courses.
And when it comes to training apprentices, South Carolina has led the nation for more than a decade. Its Apprenticeship Carolina program, administered by the state technical college system, is considered a national model by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Apprenticeships — where a student spends part of the time in a classroom and part of the time working on a shop floor — are good for employers, who know they are getting a well-trained worker when they hire an apprentice full time. And they are good for students who invest their time and money in them.
The Brookings study looked at a nationwide program sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers that is known as the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program. It found that at Toyota’s Georgetown, Ky., plant, apprenticeship graduates made $20,000 a year more than two-year college grads when hired and $45,000 a year more after five years.
That’s an excellent return on an educational investment.
The national program is focused on manufacturing and is in 400 plants. But Apprenticeship Carolina goes far beyond that, offering more than 1,000 courses in 11 major industrial fields, including advanced manufacturing, construction technologies, energy and utilities, health care, information technology, tourism and service industries, and transportation, distribution and logistics
Apprenticeship Carolina works with 1,089 companies with a 2020 enrollment of 34,454. Its growth has been phenomenal. The program started in 2007 with just 90 employers and 777 apprentices. It recently started a high-school Youth Apprenticeship program with 242 employers.
Apprenticeship Carolina is affiliated with all of the state’s 16 technical colleges. The National Association of Manufacturers program also has a foothold in South Carolina, being affiliated with Midlands Technical College in Columbia.
It has been suggested that the readiness of South Carolina employers to sign up for state-sponsored apprenticeship programs owes something to the arrival of BMW, with its European approach to worker development. Whatever the reason, the South Carolina program has had a lot to do with the growth of manufacturing employment in the state.
The program and the state’s technical college system are bright spots in the often-maligned South Carolina pubic education system. Hats off to Apprenticeship Carolina.