NORTH CHARLESTON — South Carolina is enjoying a new era of manufacturing far removed from traditional industry of 40 or 50 years ago, and modern manufacturers require workers with much higher skill levels, a Clemson University educator said Wednesday.

Speaking during the STEM workforce development pathway at the Next Steps for STEM Schools conference, Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science and director of the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development, said modern industry cannot be termed “general manufacturing.”

“South Carolina’s workforce must stay relevant,” Gramopadhye said. “Not every position requires a traditional four-year degree, so it’s important we provide options to different levels of students.”

As an example, Gramopadhye pointed to advances in online education, which have created a new method of delivery for courses. Digital learning can reach a wide array of participants without the need for students to attend classes in person, and courses and certificate programs can be tailored for specific companies. 

“If you can’t go to the school, digital learning means the school can come to you,” Gramopadhye said.

The center’s workforce development pathway explored a new national model that engages universities, technical colleges, P-12 institutions, statewide industry and federal agencies to deliver workforce development, economic development and entrepreneurship and innovation tools.

One company that has embraced the digital learning tool is Fluor. Beth Jackson, president of Fluor University, the company’s training division, said distance learning has brought far-reaching benefits.

The company remodeled some of its traditional classrooms for distance learning and found that bringing training groups together from the company’s many worldwide locations fostered a culture of collaboration.

“One of the biggest benefits we’e seen is the ability to collaborate across regions, disciplines and cultures,” Jackson said. “From London to New Delhi to Manila, our teams can come together in our virtual classrooms.”

Other topics during the workforce development pathway included leveraging public-private partnerships, institutional collaboration and an overview of Clemson University’s economic development initiatives.

John Kelly, Clemson University vice president for economic development, told the conference South Carolina must do all it can to keep its best and brightest students in the state when they graduate high school or college because the state’s new manufacturers need them.

That pipeline will come from STEM education, he said.

Modern manufacturing is a world away from the heavy industry in the days of the parents and grandparents of today’s students. Today’s industry operates in clean environments and is highly technical, offering a wide array of STEM-based career opportunities.

“It’s vital we engage our students in STEM education and STEM-related research,” Kelly said. “By exposing them to actual projects through internships and other programs, we will build the support network for our new companies and the next-generation workforce.

“I encourage you, as teachers, to expose your students to experiences that may inspire an engineering and science career path,” he told conference attendees.

With a focus on advanced manufacturing to support South Carolina’s burgeoning manufacturing industry, the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development oversees distribution of funding provided by the Duke Energy Foundation to partner institutions that include universities, technical colleges, K-12 institutions and STEM-oriented organizations through competitive funding awards, scholarships and internships.

The funding helped create virtual resources designed to support industrial development, sponsor competitive funding opportunities for K-12 and technical college classrooms, support scholarships and internships across multiple South Carolina institutions of higher education, and finance conferences to create greater awareness of workforce development issues.


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