- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina must ramp up efforts to educate and retrain adults or jobs will vanish, says the director of the state’s Education Oversight Committee.

Just 40 percent of South Carolina’s working-age adults - those 25 to 64 years old - have an industry certification or degree beyond high school, ranking the state 40th nationwide. Twelve percent lack even a high school diploma, according to a report released last month by the Lumina Foundation.

“That’s why it’s getting harder and harder for businesses and industry to attract people,” EOC Director Melanie Barton told a Senate panel Thursday. “Even if we graduated 100 percent of our kids ready for college tomorrow, it’s still not enough. You’ve got to address the adults.”

While the state’s unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in March, about 131,500 South Carolinians remained out of work, despite 63,000 job openings statewide, according to the Department of Employment and Workforce.

Legislation that aims to match training with businesses’ workforce needs is headed to the Senate Education Committee.

Passed 106-5 by the House in January, it creates a council to coordinate all workforce training offered by various state agencies. Its responsibilities include surveying businesses to determine their hiring needs and working with technical colleges to fill in any gaps.

The council would also dole out tuition scholarships for adults who need schooling to get a job, as well as grants to pay for books and other fees they can’t otherwise afford.

Its sponsor, House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, said coordination between K-12 schools, colleges, other state agencies and businesses is essential.

“Right now, everybody wants their own kingdom, and that’s not working,” he said Friday.

The low percentages of degree attainment in poor, rural counties are particularly startling, said Barton, who leads an agency tasked with accessing K-12 schools and overseen by a board educators, legislators and business leaders.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, just 14 percent of adults in Marlboro County hold at least an associate’s degree. Five other counties are below 20 percent.

“That explains why economic development is not happening in those counties. The workforce is not there,” Barton said.

At the top end, half of adults in Charleston County and 46 percent in Richland County hold a post-high-school degree.

“Richland County may be better than others, but our better is still not good,” said Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia.

Barton applauds the legislation’s tiered tax incentives for businesses that employ students as apprentices. Proposed tax credits for businesses in approved trades or skills range from $750 to $4,000 per apprentice, depending on the county’s unemployment rates.

She hopes it creates opportunities for students in distressed counties and helps erase students’ and parents’ misconceptions about pursuing careers in trades or high-tech manufacturing - a high-need field.

According to the Lumina report, just 4 percent of South Carolina’s adults hold a high-quality industry certificate or credential.

“We need a big momentum shift. It’s going to cost money,” Barton said. If the percentages of degrees or certifications don’t improve, she added, “companies will move, that’s my greatest fear, or they won’t expand.”

How much the legislation would ultimately cost will become clearer after agencies start coordinating, White said.

Several counties are piloting the program this year with $7 million from the state: $5 million for adult scholarships and $2 million to expand high schoolers’ dual-enrollment opportunities at technical colleges. The proposed budget for 2016-17 continues those amounts.

Legislators’ proposed spending also adds $10 million specifically for high school career centers and guidance counselors, increasing the total to $16 million.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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