- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s unemployment agency is seeking $15 million for a workforce initiative that officials say will train thousands of people annually for available jobs.

Details of the initiative Gov. Nikki Haley announced last month in her State of the State address are still being worked out. But officials say it will help those who don’t qualify for the state’s decades-old ReadySC training program, which is tied to job-recruitment efforts.

The new initiative, “Succeed South Carolina,” has two parts: Businesses having trouble finding skilled workers could get a state grant to partner with a local technical college. And eligible people can have their training paid upfront by the state, Department of Employment and Workforce Director Cheryl Stanton told a House budget-writing panel Tuesday.

But the worker would have to pay the money back.

“If that single mom wants to get started, we’ll pay for her training. And when she gets the job we’ve trained her for, which she will, she’ll pay us back and pay it forward,” Haley said in her State of the State. The Republican governor has pledged to focus on workforce training in her second term.

How that “pay it forward” provision would work is not yet known, but agency officials insist it’s a training program, not a loan.

As of December, 144,000 South Carolinians were unemployed. But Stanton noted there were 64,000 job openings statewide.

“We’re going to look region by region - looking to see what the high-demand jobs are with openings,” then arrange for the training that enables people to fill them, she said. “It’s a cultural shift for the state of South Carolina.”

Her agency’s primary duty is to provide unemployment benefits.

The 54-year-old ReadySC, a division of the Technical College System, trains workers for jobs created by businesses recruited to or expanding in the state. The program is offered as part of businesses’ negotiations with Commerce and local economic development groups, involving job and investment commitments. Last fiscal year, the state’s technical colleges trained 4,700 workers for jobs at 81 companies through ReadySC, said system spokeswoman Kelly Steinhilper.

“We have always offered training programs through ReadySC to train people who want to work in places like BMW, Boeing, and Continental. It’s been tremendously successful, but we’re going to expand it,” Haley said in her speech.

ReadySC is not limited by size or industry. Of the 81 companies helped last year, 22 involved training fewer than 51 workers. Generally, half of the businesses that participate in ReadySC involve expansions of companies already in the state, Steinhilper said.

But it is limited to providing the initial workforce of either a company new to South Carolina or an existing company’s new product line. Succeed South Carolina won’t be limited by Commerce’s negotiations, and the individual help is a completely new component, said Darrell Scott, Stanton’s chief of staff.

The range of certificates people could earn through the program is still being decided, but examples include welding and commercial driving. The certification courses typically last 12 weeks, Stanton said.

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