Years from now, histories will be published about the worldwide impact of COVID-19 in 2020. While we do not yet know what those pages will hold, I want to get on the record about how the leaders of South Carolina technical colleges are responding to the workforce challenges created by the pandemic.
Consider the breakneck speed at which things changed this spring. In March, South Carolina experienced two diametrically opposed records. The March 12, 2020 S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) numbers showed that more South Carolinians were working than ever before: 2,334,652. But by the end of the month, DEW reported the highest weekly number of unemployment claims in South Carolina history: more than 64,800 in just one week. By June, more than half a million people in South Carolina had filed claims and $2B in payments have been made since the pandemic response began.
The leadership at Midlands Technical College and the S.C. Technical College System recognizes that workforce development is critical like never before, and took immediate action. It is what we do. For decades, our colleges have been leading and developing skilled employees who are needed for essential careers and professions. This pandemic has demonstrated a new need – educating and training a new wave of working people who are newly out of work.
Technical colleges provide real-world learning that allows for excellence in essential work – work that is the backbone of our economy. Of those who have been immune from layoffs and shutdowns the several past months, a large percentage got their start at a technical college. This is especially true in fields such as nursing, respiratory therapy, information technology, manufacturing, automotive and construction technologies. Also think mechanics, heating and air repair technicians, computer network and security admins, business owners, and engineers to name a few others. These are the jobs that are essential -- always in high demand. We train and educate people for them each and every day at Midlands Technical College and the other technical college campuses across the Palmetto State.
The value our colleges provide is not just for those looking for a new skill or new job. Technical college graduates include professionals, such as teachers, accountants, and business executives, all of whom saved money on their education by attending or graduating from a technical college and then transferring to a four-year college or university. Paths are already in place to make the transfers seamless and stress-free. And just as important, it’s a path to family sustainability and personally rewarding careers.
This pandemic illustrates the true value of a technical college education. Our affordable cost is matched with high quality and established career paths that provide the best value over the long term.
Consider this, the average annual tuition at South Carolina technical colleges is approximately 65% less than a four-year institution. Each year, there about 175,000 residents who enroll in a technical college, and 90% of graduates get a job in their field or continue their studies in their local communities.
We are yet to see the full impact of COVID-19 on the workforce in South Carolina and across the nation. But, rest assured that Midlands Technical College and other members of the South Carolina Technical College System are nimble as we adjust to new realities while being committed to working hand-in-hand with business and community leaders to keep the graduates coming, and to help make sure that new and emerging skills are integrated into our curriculums.
Dr. Ronald L. Rhames, a 1978 graduate of Midlands Technical College, became its sixth president in March of 2015.