North Augusta Chamber lunch focuses on education and industry partnerships

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The North Augusta Chamber of Commerce held a Power Up Education and Industry Partnerships luncheon Thursday, with a panel of representatives from local organizations and businesses.

Mindy Mets talked about WORC, a grant and scholarship program that SRS Community Reuse Organization runs with five local colleges and universities. She showed a statistic that said by 2020, millennials, 18- to 34-year-olds, would be 50 percent of the workforce. Mets talked about how WORC uses scholarships, student retention strategies, and program marketing and recruitment as part of a process to find potential employees for the Savannah River Site.

Dr. Gary Senn, director of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at USC Aiken, said the center was created when a study said the United States was producing less jobs in STEM fields.

He talked about how they partner with businesses, such as Bridgestone, to join science and technology with education.

Also from USCA was Dr. Daren Timmons, the dean of Sciences and Engineering. He discussed how students in those fields and programs use partnerships with local businesses as out-of-classroom learning opportunities.

“We have students working in local businesses, we have local businesses spending time on our campus … One of the businesses we met with recently said, ‘How do you get involved in this sort of stuff, how can we get a seat at the table?’ It just requires a relationship,” he said.

“We’re wide open, we’d love to be partnered together for the good of our students, and for the good of their businesses,” Timmons said.

From Aiken Technical College, President Dr. Forest Mahan discussed how Aiken Tech can partner with companies and others to help “build the pipeline” for students to jobs.

Mahan said that every credential they have is part of the curriculum because it is a needed skill in Aiken County.

“We can’t run programs that don’t produce the graduates who can first do the jobs they need to do, but also get the jobs they need to get,” Mahan said. “So we have to have a constant hand on the pulse of Aiken County and the businesses and industries to say, ‘What skills do you need in order to have a successful worker or employee?'”

He mentioned partnerships with high schools for duel enrollment, and said that when many people think college, they think bigger four-year universities like Clemson or the University of South Carolina, but two-semester and two-year degrees can be just as important as well.

“I’ve said we need to change what it means to go to college,” he said.

Dr. Sean Alford, superintendent of the Aiken County Public School District, agreed with Mahan, saying that there’s a new paradigm with students in college, and that every student needs “some” college, whether they go right out of high school or later.

Alford talked about the district’s Aiken Works program, which is designed to give students experiences that give them skills to take to the workforce.

Alford said they not only want to give students a diploma, but give them skills “someone is willing to pay you for.”

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