FLORENCE — Nearly 3 million U.S. manufacturing workers will retire within 20 years. Further, every year across the country, some 270,000 manufacturing positions go unfilled. Replacing a retiring workforce and filling these vacant positions starts with STEM education, according to speakers at a Tuesday conference.CUCWD-logo

Robbie Barnett, associate vice president for workforce, education and manufacturing policy for the South Carolina State Chamber of Commerce, told a workforce development workshop Tuesday that South Carolina has one of the fastest-growing advanced manufacturing sectors in the country.

The No. 1 issue he hears from companies across the state is employers worried about the supply line providing a qualified workforce to fill advanced-manufacturing jobs in the state.

Barnett said a key to meeting this growing need is STEM education: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The K-12 system must be transformed, he said. Workforce skills have shifted and a new model must be tailored for individual needs, because the “one-size-fits-all” method no longer works.

“If we can find a way to do this we can solve many of these problems,” Barnett said.

Barnett spoke during the Pee Dee STEM Educators Forum at Florence-Darlington Technical College’s Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology. The forum was hosted by the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.

The Pee Dee STEM Educators Forum gathered information on the needs of Pee Dee STEM educators and stakeholders in areas related to career pathways and workforce development.

Participants included teachers from area elementary, middle and high schools representing 12 Pee Dee counties; guidance and career counselors; K-12 administrators; local technical college officials; and industry and legislative representatives.

Kris Frady, director of operations for the Center for Workforce Development, said the state’s educators have a platform to inspire students to become interested in STEM and follow a career in technology and advanced manufacturing.

“South Carolina’s economy will benefit from providing more qualified employees to work in the state’s bourgeoning industries,” Frady said. “Education, particularly in STEM fields, is vital to workforce and economic development.”

The forum included a panel discussion with local industry representatives, tours of the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology and feedback sessions.

The forum was sponsored by  South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics and Science, the Center for Aviation and Automotive Technician Education Using Virtual E-Schools, the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development, Clemson University Economic Development and the Clemson University College of Engineering and Science.