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Manufacturing execs talk Charleston’s competitiveness, challenges

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By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 9, 2015

South Carolina faces major challenges to produce more skilled workers and improve crumbling infrastructure if it hopes to remain globally competitive, according to leaders of Volvo, Boeing and The InterTech Group.

Katarina Fjording, vice president and general manager of Volvo Cars America; Beverly Wyse, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina; and Anita Zucker, chairwoman and CEO of The InterTech Group, spoke on a panel at a Charleston Regional Development Alliance event at Trident Technical College on Thursday.

Katarina FjordingFjording

Anita ZuckerZucker

Beverly WyseWyse
They touched on Charleston’s competitiveness — what works to recruit and retain businesses, as well as what challenges could stall companies’ ability to grow successfully in the region going forward, such as long commute times and workforce needs.

Fjording said that in addition to the increased focus in schools on science, math and engineering, she wants to see an emphasis on teaching technical skills. She said students should be introduced to production, assembly and other technical trades earlier.

Fjording said manufacturers in the region depend on these skills, as well as on engineers — and they are coming up short.

Focusing on trade skills would open up more opportunities for people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to secure good-paying jobs in the area, Fjording said. By attending technical colleges or other training programs, students could spend less money and time getting trained compared with earning graduate or doctorate degrees.

“Not everyone needs to be an engineer. It’s great to encourage them to do it. But we also need more technical skills and we need it on all levels,” said Fjording, who has spent three years in China building two Volvo factories and is now the general manager of Volvo’s future Berkeley County plant.

Zucker said some of this is already happening with more apprenticeships and certificate opportunities available for high school students.

The Tri-County Cradle to Career initiative, which Zucker champions, aims to ensure that children, especially those from low-income families, begin learning even before starting school and throughout their educational career. She said having the ability to learn is as important as getting an education.

“People must be highly trained and they also must be highly trainable,” Zucker said.

As more manufacturers move into the region, competition for talented workers increases. Wyse said more people need to be trained for available jobs — and those efforts need to be inclusive.

“We really need to continue that open conversation about: How do we make sure the opportunities that have been at the wealthier end of the scale are available throughout the socioeconomic communities?”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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