During March’s edition of Greenville Forward’s Momentum series, we discussed this topic in depth and ultimately decided that yes, education has an immeasurably important impact on workforce development.
Greenville’s history is heavily rooted in textile mills. We were once known as the “Textile Capital of the World” and a drive around Greenville will reveal the evidence left behind from our dominance of the industry. During this conversation, participants pointed out that, though rich, the textile culture had an overall negative impact on the importance of higher education as related to success in the workforce. While imparting a strong work ethic, that culture deemed high school degrees the only necessary education required to work in the mills, a lifelong career path.
And though we might live in a culture two generations removed from our textile heritage, the Momentum participants argued that many of the remaining textile families’ mindsets have not changed to match the current economic climate – where a higher education degree is minimally necessary to achieve significant workforce success later in life. One attendee said, “Some of the textile grandfathers still believe you don’t really need education and that your family would view you as ‘uppity’ if you sought one. Some are afraid of success.”
A key theme that arose was that education must not only teach basic tenets of knowledge, but a passion for continued learning, where you learn how to learn and rapidly change from one thing to another so that you can adapt as the job market grows and changes.
An additional topic that came up was the vast need for those with technical abilities and the lack of a qualified workforce. ADEX Machining was brought up several times as an example of a high technology-driven company building specific aerospace equipment for clients like Boeing. How do we direct the education of some to meet this need? Is it even reasonable to do so when the job market landscape might be different in a new way when they complete their education?
The overwhelming understanding that kept coming up was that we must prepare our young people for a variety of careers — while preparing them to be ready to learn and absorb new skills along the way. We also need strategic partnerships among parents, teachers, college educators, and community leaders. We need to strongly link drug abuse and unemployment and seriously address our dropout rates in Greenville County. And we need to address the culture of our textile heritage – insisting that higher education is a must to achieve success.
So, shall we get started?