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Charleston state lawmakers look to add trade skills to schools

A pre-filed bill in the state house would bring advanced manufacturing and harbor pilotage to...
A pre-filed bill in the state house would bring advanced manufacturing and harbor pilotage to the middle and high schools.(Live 5)
Published: Dec. 31, 2021 at 5:28 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 31, 2021 at 5:33 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As Charlestonians continue to feel the crunch of supply chain failures, a pair of local state lawmakers teamed up to propose a change in education aimed at beefing up manufacturing and getting high paying jobs in the hands of high school graduates.

State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston) and Rep. Lin Bennett (R-Charleston) pre-filed an education reform bill that would require middle and high schools to offer at least one class in advanced manufacturing and another in harbor pilotage.

“We had companies like Boeing meeting with us, back in the 90s saying look, you know, we’re coming here, but you guys are falling short on the skills trades. So the only way we are going to rectify that is to grab the bull by the horns,” Gilliard said.  “It hurts us to find out that they have to go beyond the borders to bring people in to fill these positions. You’re talking about jobs that would pay a mortgage, jobs that would send your children to college.”

House Bill H.4578 has been referred to the Judiciary Committee for consideration. Gilliard says the Lowcountry needs more options for high school graduates to make a decent living. Gilliard says the impetus for the bill came when took a trip to California about 20 years ago and met a young high school graduate working as a harbor pilot making a six-figure salary.

“I said, ‘Well, how’d you learn how to read all these gyros on this boat?’ He said, ‘Look, we have this in our fifth-grade curriculum.’ I was awestruck,” Gilliard said, noting there’s now an employee shortage in many of these industries. “The National Labor Board predicted back then what would happen in South Carolina is we would fall short, and I was ringing the bell back then and I’m still ringing it now. And I know one day this will come to fruition.”

Gilliard says having a trade skill straight out of high school would give students a marketable skill set at the end of their government-mandated education. That means they wouldn’t necessarily have to go to college or a university to apply for high-paying trade jobs.

“For whatever reason, some people don’t stay in college, whether it’s they have to go home to take care of parents, whether it is for medical conditions, etc,” Gilliard said. “Whatever the case might be, they fall through the cracks, but can you imagine having a fallback skill or trade?”

Several schools in the Lowcountry already offer courses in advanced manufacturing. Summerville High School for example offers mechatronics as an advanced manufacturing class under their Career and Technology Education program.

If the bill becomes law, schools would be required to offer the classes by the 2023-2024 school year.

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