Accessible Technical Training a Win-Win for Industry and Workers in Union County

When you grow up in a small, sparsely populated county in South Carolina where higher educational opportunities and job training are scarce, leaving home to seek educational opportunities is an attractive alternative. Similarly, if you've been a worker in an industry where there are fewer and fewer jobs and plants close all the time, it's understandable to want to leave and find work elsewhere.

With a high unemployment rate and lost jobs due to plant closings, Union County has faced those very issues. The Advanced Technology Center addresses those issues as well as providing skills training specific to existing industries in the area. Students coming out of high school, unemployed and underemployed workers, and workers seeking recertification or additional credentials can stay in Union County to receive that training through both for-credit and non-credit courses.

The Center, which began in 2009 as a partnership between Union County, the City of Union, Spartanburg Community College and USC-Union, is an interesting hybrid of technical training geared to specific jobs at companies such as Gestamp SC LLC and academic classes that will allow students to continue their education elsewhere. In 2012, the Center was approved by SACS (the regional accrediting body) to offer academic certifications in welding, mechatronics, production, and EMT.

In addition to the manufacturing-oriented classes, the Center has partnered with Union County First Steps to offer an early childhood certification program, and a fast-track CNA program will be offered starting in July at the request of Wallace Thomson Hospital.

UCATC partners with Union County High School to offer dual credit courses in welding, machine tool, and certified nursing assistant so that students who are still in high school can begin training for a chosen career path. Through the Corporate and Community Education division, the center offers industrial and manufacturing certifications to include MSSC, NCCER, and Siemens Mechatronics Systems. Also, customized training programs are available.

With the presence of a community technology service that will provide technical training in health sciences, welding, manufacturing, and other high tech/high growth fields, a ready workforce will be available that serves as an economic development tool to recruit, grow, and maintain business/industry in Union County. In fact, in 2011, Gestamp South Carolina announced an expansion of 150,000 square feet of production capacity that will add another 100 jobs, and that expansion is due to be complete later this year.

According to the terms of the grant that funded the Center, 51% of students must be low- to moderate-income individuals or come from low- to moderate-income families, building in another benefit to the community: providing training and education to a segment of the population that might otherwise find it out of reach due to finances.

Site coordinator Kathy Jo Lancaster, a Union County native and resident, has worked in higher education since the 1980s in various capacities and was previously the grant manager and director of admissions for Spartanburg Community College until she took her current post in 2011 in order to boost enrollment and services to Union County residents. Since that time, she says, "our enrollment, services, and program offerings have continued to increase and expand. In 2012, the center was named Service Group of the Year by the Union County Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the center received a letter of commendation from Congressman Trey Gowdy for the exemplary services we have provided to the Union Community."

Torance Inman, Executive Director of the Union County Chamber of Commerce, says, "The Advanced Technology Center has been engaged since its conception in promoting Union County through education, training, economic development and community service. It is hard to image Union County without the Advanced Technology Center, but easy to image a strong growing business and industry community because of their presence."

For more information about the programs offered at the Union County Advanced Technology Center, please contact Kathy Jo Lancaster at 864-466-1065.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Drew, UCATC

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.