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ICYMI: Higher education plays role in putting people to work

By Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Trey Gowdy (R-SC)

Despite traces of progress in the Department of Labor’s latest jobs report, unemployment remains a major concern in the Carolinas. The regional unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent — well above the national average of 9.1 percent.

Getting folks back to work is a top priority in both South Carolina’s 4th District and North Carolina’s 5th District. That is why members of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will gather at Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) in Greenville at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

We will talk to educators, business leaders and public officials to explore the challenges facing the local economy as part of a hearing entitled “Reviving our Economy: The Role of Higher Education in Job Growth and Development.”

As we work to build a stronger economy here in the South and across the United States, we must ensure prospective employees can effectively compete in the workforce — and that starts with providing students access to a quality education.

There are few factors more important to reinvigorating our nation’s economy than education. Students gain invaluable skills and knowledge in the classroom that will be critical to success in the workplace.

Unfortunately, business owners often struggle to find local workers who have the necessary skills and experience, particularly in the manufacturing and high-tech fields.

To ensure students are better prepared to successfully join the workforce, some innovative colleges and universities have established partnerships with area business owners.

These partnerships allow school officials to better understand the needs of local employers, and as a result, colleges and universities can develop tightly focused curricula, hands-on training, and advanced research campuses that give their students the edge when competing for employment.

The partnership between Clemson University and the city of Greenville provides an excellent example of how higher education institutions can work with local companies to foster growth in the regional economy.

The advanced-technology research campus at CU-ICAR partners with local automotive companies to develop targeted curricula.

As a result, the knowledge and training offered at CU-ICAR ensures students have the skills to successfully compete for quality jobs at local branches of well-established companies such as BMW and Michelin. This innovative partnership has a proven track record of placing students in stable jobs while also ensuring the region remains competitive in the global economy.

In North Carolina, Forsyth Tech in Winston-Salem is one of a small handful of schools nationwide that partner with the National Association of Manufacturers to equip students with job-specific skills based on nationally recognized standards. Forsyth Tech’s tailor-made programs produce workers with the targeted skills necessary for careers in growing manufacturing fields like biotech and pharmaceutical production.

Additionally, Forsyth Tech’s reputation as a community college with an extremely flexible job training program helps draw investment to North Carolina, such as the new Caterpillar manufacturing facility that will create 400 jobs in Winston-Salem.

As we work to encourage a stronger workforce nationwide, much can be learned from successful policies and initiatives at the state and local level. The groundbreaking programs at CU-ICAR and Forsyth Tech foster an atmosphere of academic collaboration and economic growth in the Carolinas that should be replicated across the nation to spur job growth and investment.

We look forward to hearing from leaders on Tuesday afternoon about ways policymakers, educators and business owners can work together — on the local, state and federal levels — to reinvigorate the American spirit of innovation and put people back to work.

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