State leaders look to ‘streamline’ workforce development

On the heels of a record year for economic development, state leaders say their next focus is ensuring South Carolinians are ready to fill those positions.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 5:50 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 11:29 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - In the coming years, billions of dollars will be invested in South Carolina’s economy, with companies like BMW and Scout Motors vowing to bring in thousands of new jobs.

On the heels of a record year for economic development, state leaders say their next focus is ensuring South Carolinians are ready to fill those positions.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the “Statewide Education and Workforce Development Act” in a bipartisan, 102-3 vote.

Supporters say this legislation will streamline South Carolina’s workforce development efforts.

“This is a generational-type change to make our government more efficient and productive for the people of our state,” Rep. Jay West, R – Anderson, said.

West chairs a bipartisan committee formed over the summer by Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, which was tasked with figuring out how to prepare South Carolina for future economic investment and growth.

This bill, officially H.3726, is the first piece of legislation to come out of that committee’s work, with more expected.

It would consolidate and coordinate South Carolina’s publicly funded workforce development programs through a new Office of Statewide Workforce Development within the Department of Employment and Workforce.

Legislators said right now, many of these programs are operating in separate silos under separate divisions and departments across the state and not necessarily communicating with each other about what they are doing.

The comprehensive bill would also require an annual analysis of how many jobs are open across the state and how many graduates there are to fill them.

“It gives our students an opportunity to learn and understand in one-stop shop on an app or a website what’s available, what’s coming available, what these jobs actually pay, the credentials you need to get these jobs, where you can get these credentials, and what these credentials cost you,” West said.

The legislation would call for the development of a 10-year strategic plan to boost the state’s labor force participation rate, as nearly half of South Carolinians who are old enough and eligible to work are not employed or actively looking for a job.

South Carolina’s rate is currently one of the lowest in the country and trails the national average.

While the bill overwhelmingly passed the House, debate became more intense and was dragged out for longer than the final vote might imply.

Members of the ultra-conservative South Carolina Freedom Caucus attempted to add bans on state dollars going to private companies that enact diversity, equity, and inclusion programs within their company or that aim to hit environmental and social goals outside their traditional revenue targets.

“I don’t think it’s the state’s responsibility, nor do I think the state should promote brining in woke corporations who seek to undermine the values of our constituents,” Rep. RJ May, R – Lexington and Freedom Caucus vice chair, said.

The rest of the Republican majority joined Democrats in voting down those attempts, saying private companies should be free to operate as they choose, not as government forces them.

“I’d implore you: Reject this brand of toxic, cancerous politics, and let’s focus on the business of South Carolina because we are saying to the world, ‘We are open for business.’ We are ready for a new era of South Carolina, and we’re going to leave this nonsense where it belongs, in the trash bin,” Rep. Micah Caskey, R – Lexington, told his colleagues during debate.

A fiscal impact report found it would cost the state about $7.4 million to initially implement this legislation and create the new statewide office; then it would cost about $4.4 million to run it each year from there.

The bill will next be under consideration in the state Senate.