Robinson: Students Should Prepare Now for Manufacturing Growth in Region

“You have a tremendous opportunity in front of you, but it’s up to you to determine how you are going to take advantage of it.” That was the message Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson shared with new students at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College’s Spring Assembly on Jan. 7.

Robinson talked about how the growth of advanced manufacturing in Orangeburg County and across South Carolina – and the close proximity of the new Volvo plant in Berkeley County – will lead to increased career opportunities not only in manufacturing, but across a wide range of fields like healthcare and small business.

“You’d be surprised at how many people get here and are amazed at what we have to offer,” Robinson said, citing Orangeburg County’s geographical location, the quality of its workforce and the abundance of infrastructure as assets in drawing industry to the area. “Orangeburg has one of the highest concentrations of industrial growth in the state. We have one of the highest concentrations of international investment in the state. From an international perspective, we are the coast.”

Any field tied to manufacturing is a safe bet for a great career, he continued, including logistics, truck driving, sales, marketing and other administrative duties. Also needed are the engineering and computer-aided design skills behind creating infrastructure, Robinson said.

“For every manufacturing job that is generated in this state, there are, on average, five related jobs that are created. For every one manufacturing job, there has to be retail, food, beverage, healthcare, dry cleaners – there has to be those types of spinoffs,” he said. “There are growth opportunities. We have to have you ready for what’s next.”

A technical education is important, Robinson said, and so are soft skills like punctuality and the ability to work communicate well. He encouraged students to take advantage of apprenticeship opportunities and tackle any weaknesses that they may have in STEM courses to make the greatest impact on their future.

“We’ve got to make sure that the people in this room are getting educated to the point where you can add value,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that individuals who are training for these potential jobs are the best candidates. What we’re trying to do here is be work-ready.”

The impending retirements of many in the manufacturing field will be a boon for current and future students, he said.

“That’s a lot of expertise that’s walking out the door,” Robinson said. “The next generation has got to step up and have that expertise in order for that manufacturing to succeed. The nursing program is also a wonderful program to consider, because those baby boomers are going to have to be cared for.

“It’s a cycle. How you address and embrace the cycle is how you benefit.”

Larry Smith said he is preparing for those increased opportunities now. He began OCtech’s Mechatronics program as part of the new Evening College this week. The spring semester began Monday, Jan. 11.

“I’m a baby boomer,” the Navy veteran said. “I was a commercial diver for 12 years, but that’s a wear-down job. It’s time to stop and do something else. That’s why I’m at OCtech, to learn something new.”

He said the new Volvo plant is just an exit away from his home in Berkeley County, making it an obvious choice for a career change. He currently works full-time as a baker at Publix.

“I’m looking at a three-year program, and that’s fine with me because that’s when Volvo is going to start hiring anyway,” Smith said.

Lakeshia Hunt of Vance has been working in child care since 2009. She is enrolled in OCtech’s associate degree transfer program in Early Childhood Education.

“I have enough experience in the field to know what I am getting into,” said Hunt, who works at Wright Way Child Development Center in Eutawville. “I’m excited about this opportunity.”

There are still several opportunities to take courses at OCtech. Registration for online courses and computer, engineering and advanced manufacturing programs continues through Friday, Jan. 15. Mini sessions begin Feb. 1 and March 14, offering even more opportunities to earn truck driving credentials, take prerequisite courses for a number of academic programs and more. The college will hold an Instant Admissions Day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21.

For more information about OCtech programs or to search classes, call 803-535-1234 or visit www.octech.edu.