Officials: Promise, Edge programs having impact on region’s workforce

Jan 18, 2019 – By ADAM BENSON from The Index Journal.

A pair of scholarship programs aimed at giving Greenwood County students broad career opportunities posted rosy numbers that have officials confident for their long-term viability.

Last year, economic development leaders and educators unveiled Greenwood Edge, a dual-enrollment track that allows students to earn a manufacturing production technician certificate through Piedmont Technical College while still in high school.

It’s viewed as a companion to the Greenwood Promise, which offers last dollar financial aid for students graduating high school so they can attend Piedmont Tech at no cost — with future phases paying for tuition at Lander University or another four-year institution where the major is offered.

James Bateman, director of business development for the Greenwood Partnership Alliance, told board members Thursday that the inaugural 19-student Edge cohort has already completed two of their certification tests, with the second planned for this semester.

On top of that, 17 of them have passed the tests with a grade of “C” or better, while eight passed a national quality certification exam — considered the most difficult.

A $2,070 value, the Edge is offered at no cost to students through support from the Greenwood Promise and each of the county’s three school districts. The Promise is a fiscal agent for the Edge, but the programs run separately.

“The object for Edge is to prepare students for industrial jobs, without going to Piedmont Tech — right from high school,” said CPW commissioner Michael Monaghan.

However, Edge students can choose to continue their education, having had completed one semester’s worth of work at Piedmont Tech, Bateman said.

“It expedites either their entry into the workforce or their technical education, so they’re entering at maybe a higher skilled job or higher educational attainment job,” Bateman said.

Three of the 19 students have secured apprenticeships from Fujifilm — all from Ware Shoals High School.

“We also know of the five companies that were official corporate supporters of the program by lending their brand name, were planning requisitions or job openings for the students,” Bateman said. “They’re at least guaranteeing an interview for students that complete the Edge program.”

Those companies are: Ascend Performance Materials, Capsugel, a Lonza company, Fujifilm, Greenwood Mills Inc. and Monti Inc. Manufacturing jobs comprise 26 percent of Greenwood County’s workforce.

High school students enrolled in Edge will get 12 credit hours by taking the following courses: Statistical Process Control, Basic Industrial Skills I, Introduction to Industrial Maintenance, Precision Measurements and Manufacturing Engineering Principles.

Piedmont Tech’s Manufacturing Technician Certificate has a $2,070 value.

Edge was born out of a five-year strategic plan developed by the Partnership Alliance in 2017 that included the creation of a human resources project. After meeting with focus groups that included representation from major manufacturers in the region and trips to other communities with similar initiatives in place, officials crafted a local version.

Greenwood County Council chairman Steve Brown said the body is interested in continuing its financial support for the Edge.

“The county’s very interested in putting some monies into it — and did allocate some for it — and I think we’ll be there again this year,” he said. “We want to participate financially.”

Meanwhile, the Greenwood Promise continues to pay dividends, supporters say. With longtime county teacher Kate Davenport now on board as executive director, building on its popularity is a top goal.

From fall 2016 and fall 2017, Piedmont Tech saw a 38 percent increase in the number of Greenwood County students, with postsecondary participation for high school graduates jumping from 62 percent to 71 percent over that same span.

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