SPARTANBURG S.C. (WSPA) – In the last 30 years, The Upstate region has become a manufacturing hub for the automotive industry. After BMW opened its plant in Spartanburg in 1992, producers of vehicle components began moving nearby, creating the large network of automotive manufacturing that exists today. Employees with the specialized skills needed to fill many of those jobs can be difficult to find. The Apprenticeship Carolina program is trying to overcome that problem by customizing an educational program to fit the specific needs of companies.

Apprenticeship Carolina allows companies to train employees for different occupations through on-the-job training with a mentor, paired with classroom instruction. The program relies on the 16 SC technical colleges to provide companies with classroom instruction tailored to their needs without cost.

“As [employers] have pivoted, we pivoted with them,” said Amy Firestone, vice president of Apprenticeship Carolina.

Since the apprenticeship program began in 2007, more than 14,000 employees have gone through the training. The program is completely driven by the specific needs of local companies, she said.

“The beauty of a registered apprenticeship is that each company can design and customize their program, according to the company’s culture, their company’s technology, what tools they use,” she said.

Promoting from within

If a company wants an employee to learn a new skill, the employer can contact the program for an assessment. Someone from Apprenticeship Carolina will then design a training program based on the employer’s occupational needs.

“It’s Investing in somebody, investing in their skills, and really bringing them into the culture of the company so they stay long term,” said Firestone.

Cooper-Standard, an automotive component manufacturer in Spartanburg, is one of many local companies that sends its employees through the apprenticeship program.

The program gives the company an opportunity to promote from within and develop a positive relationship with employees by investing in its workforce, said Warren Snead, human resource manager at Cooper-Standard.

As machines and automation begin to have a bigger role in manufacturing, Cooper-Standard has been sending its employees through the program to adapt to the changes, he said.

One of their employees currently going through the program is Dakota Reid, who is learning to program and operate the company’s automated machinery.

“I’m basically extending my knowledge from what I learned in school,” said Reid, who is specializing in mechatronics, a field that combines mechanical and electrical engineering with computers and robotics.

Manufacturing and healthcare make up the largest industries participating in registered apprenticeships in SC. The majority of companies using the program seek to train employees in healthcare, maintenance tech, HVAC, manufacturing, cyber security, and internet technologies, according to Firestone.

Apprenticeship Carolina has received more than $19 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Labor in the past two years to support apprenticeship expansion in South Carolina. In 2021, Apprenticeship Carolina formed an employer council consisting of 18 leading apprenticeship companies in SC, according to a statement from the program.