Apprenticeships key to smart hirings, Business group says companies can gain skilled, loyal worker

By Jason Ryan, The State

December 27, 2006

Better-trained workers and better-paying jobs in South Carolina start with a state-backed registered apprenticeship program, says the state’s Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

The one- to six-year programs that combine classroom and on-the-job learning are in too short supply in South Carolina, said the chamber’s president and CEO, Frank Knapp Jr.

In South Carolina, there are about 750 registered apprenticeships, according to Knapp. In North Carolina, there are more than 21,000, according to the N.C. Department of Labor.

Now, the small-business chamber and the S.C. Technical College System are lobbying the General Assembly to approve $1,000 tax credits to businesses for each new apprentice and to give $1 million to the technical college system for marketing.

Knapp said the payoff is businesses gain a well-trained worker often flattered at the investment a company makes on both of their behalves.

“You generate not only a skilled employee but one that is also committed to the business,” Knapp said.

Fears of unionization and the costs of paying for training and tuition discouraged many companies from creating apprenticeships in the past, Knapp said.

A fear that workers will leave after a company has invested time and money also discourages use of the programs, said Charles Sedgass, in charge of hiring and training at Eastman Chemical Co. in Calhoun County.

Eastman has 12 apprenticeships for mechanics and plastic machine operators, Sedgass said.

“We have real good luck with them staying,” he said, crediting good pay and the appreciation employees feel about being trained for up to four years.

Eastman Chemical benefits from the training program by having employees who can troubleshoot and avoid lengthy production shutdowns.

“It teaches someone how to think through a process rather than just react,” Sedgass said.

Knapp said workers also can take their training credentials to potential new employers to prove they possess needed skills.

Barry Russell, president of the technical college system, said that most of the $1 million requested from the state would pay for marketing and the salaries of regional technical college employees who would help companies create apprenticeship programs.

This would include coordination with the government and advising what classes at technical colleges could be taken by employees.

Russell said both companies and employees in South Carolina have been missing out on the benefits of apprenticeships for too long.

“To a lot of people it makes sense to earn a salary while they’re learning at the same time.”


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