August 12, 2016
By Lindsay Street, contributing correspondent
The 2015 annual report, titled “S.C. labor overeducated for majority of jobs,” by the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce illustrates gaps in skills that remain between workforce and labor demands.
According to the DEW report, South Carolina has an “oversupply” of labor with some college or a bachelor of the arts degrees and not enough labor with technical degrees that are in demand.
The report also stated that many of the state’s high school students are still seeking a four-year arts degree despite the job market not having as many jobs for those degree-holders, and that employers report job candidates are lacking soft skills needed to be successful in their jobs.
A request to interview the researchers of the report was declined by DEW spokesman Robert Bouyea.
“We really don’t comment on our reports. They are what they are,” Bouyea wrote in an email to Statehouse Report.
Looking deeper: Experts say S.C. not necessarily ‘overeducated’
DEW’s report, however, has some folks scratching their heads. An economist, a state business advocate and the state director of career education say that too much education isn’t the problem.
The big takeaway, according to those interviewed for this story, is that students haven’t synced with labor demands yet, despite apprenticeship programs and a focus of labor readiness around the state.
“Good grief, we’re not overeducated,” said S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce CEO Frank Knapp. “We’d like to have more people with higher education. It’s just that what they have gone to school for is not in big demand as far as the industries we’re recruiting.
Knapp said part of the problem appeared to be that people’s pre-conceptions about higher education weren’t reflected in market realities.
“You’re trying to change the attitudes of parents and the students themselves that it’s not imperative that you get a four-year degree at some liberal arts school to be successful … but we, over the decades, have convinced parents that, dang it, Johnny or Susie have got to get a four-year degree in something if they’re going to be successful and it’s hard to change that mindset,” he said.
Knapp’s comments were echoed by those in the Department of Education.
“There’s this stigma on this two-year technical degree,” said department spokesman Ryan Brown. “Now we’re finding you can get a four-year degree and you still don’t have a job, and a lot of jobs you need you’re going to have to go back and get a two-year degree. We, as a state, need to do a better job of educating people on what’s available.”
Looking at the data
The DEW report says there were more than 29,500 total graduates than job openings for 2013-2014, which is greater than the number of openings in most career clusters.
But the report highlighted a need for workers in the following clusters:
- Architecture and construction; finance; information technology; and transportation, distribution and logistics need more people with bachelor’s degrees.
- Education and training; health science; and law, public safety, corrections and security need more people with doctorates.
- Health science; law, public safety, corrections and security; and transportation, distribution and logistics need more people with post-secondary, non-degree certificates and associate’s degrees.
Closing skills gaps
The state Department of Education has been working with DEW and private partners on closing the skills gap and creating a pipeline of students ready to enter the workforce, said state career and technology education director Ron Roveri.
In 2005, lawmakers passed S.C. Education and Economic Development Act. According to the Education Department, every school district in the state now has an apprenticeship program at the high-school level, and every high school has implemented the individual graduation plan, which helps students stay on target for meeting labor demands.
According to Roveri, the state’s apprenticeship program has become “a national model.” Last month, the Department of Education made a presentation for U.S. Department of Labor regarding its apprenticeship programs, Roveri said.
He said the high school career pathways program and the individual graduation plan, both of which have origins in the 2005 legislation, are “really where the rubber meets the road.”
The initiatives take care of the hard, technical skills, but another gap in the DEW report is a lack of “soft” skills by employees. Soft skills include showing up on time and communicating effectively.
Roveri said secondary education has implemented student competition and organizations that embed soft skills into its standards.
“We don’t consider that extracurricular. That’s co-curricular,” Roveri said.
And it’s not just DOE that’s focused on closing the soft skills gap.
“Not one agency can do it alone. It’s going to take everyone working together to solve this problem,” said DEW’s Trident Regional Manager Wendy Courson, who holds a monthly career-readiness workshop that addresses soft skills.
“(Hard and soft skills) are needed but if you don’t have the soft skills, we find they’re not as successful in their employment no matter how much the hard skills are there,” she said. “We do have a few employers who say, ‘Just give me an employee who shows up on time … and we can train them to do the rest.’”
Workforce quality drives business decisions
There’s evidence that both types of gaps in skills are closing — albeit slowly — through the state’s education and workforce efforts.
University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen said a piece of that evidence is the 2015 announcement by Swedish carmaker Volvo to park its first U.S. plant in Berkeley County. Volvo officials have repeatedly said the state’s workforce was a driving factor in the decision.
“We’re seeing a return in the sense that our workforce is more prepared now to take positions that are available in South Carolina,” he said.
Von Nessen said education doesn’t end with a high school diploma — despite the headline that there’s an oversupply of college-educated workers.
“The biggest single predictor of whether or not a South Carolinian can take advantage of a job opening is higher education,” Von Nessen said. “If you don’t have any form of higher education, you’re likely to look around and say, ‘What expansion? What recovery? I don’t see it.’”
What’s really left undone, according to educators, is that kitchen-table talk about where to get that higher education.
“Our biggest challenge now is communicating all this out,” said the state Department of Education’s Brown. “That’s something we’re going to be working to do.”