COLUMBIA — South Carolina statehouse leadership is backing legislation that will reshuffle oversight of the state’s workforce development efforts.
Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, along with members of a special committee he created to brainstorm ways to attract more industry to South Carolina, announced a bill Jan. 18 to create what the lawmakers are calling the Office of Statewide Workforce Development within the state Department of Employment and Workforce.
The office will be charged with coordinating all state-funded workforce development programs, making sure those programs run by various agencies are all delivering on their goals and following a uniform plan for improving and growing the state’s workforce.
“We have a myriad of organizations and resources right now,” said Rep. Jay West, R-Anderson, who chairs the special committee charged with examining the state workforce, utilities, roads and high-speed internet to make it more competitive.
West went on to say that by funneling all of the state’s workforce programs to one place, it will allow a coordinator to run cost benefit and performance analyses to track the outcomes of each program and report back the effectiveness to lawmakers.
Other tenets of the legislation include an annual industry and educational supply gap analysis, determining the types of open jobs in the state and the number of upcoming college graduates available to fill them.
On the side of education, the office will measure the current and future skills needed by industry and whether the state’s colleges and job training programs are teaching those skills as part of their various degree programs, West said.
The office will host information portals, informing users on the skills needed for a particular type of job, where to learn them and expected pay.
SCDEW, the cabinet agency where the new office will be housed, already offers a number of these types of services itself.
The agency’s SC Works program has both online and in-person counseling for job seekers. These centers, scattered around the state, help people “network with employers, conduct skills assessments, assist with resume writing and interviews, and even support with childcare assistance or transportation,” SCDEW Executive Director Dan Ellzey said in an earlier statement related to efforts by the agency.
The agency also oversees a back-to-work program for those in homeless shelters, a second-chance program working with the state’s prison population, a catalog of academic programs, and apprenticeships for in-demand occupations and free workforce training for those receiving unemployment benefits.
A major focus of the new office will be on improving workforce participation in the Palmetto State.
Only 56.4 percent of eligible adults in South Carolina were working or looking for work at the end of 2022, the fourth-lowest figure in the country and behind 62.1 percent nationally.
A pair of studies by SCDEW and labor-force participation task force last year set out to determine why.
One issue is the population is getting older. And with the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, those who may have been near or contemplating retirement chose to leave the workforce, either for health reasons or being laid off amid government mandated closures.
University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen said a booming stock market and ballooning 401Ks also aided in making early retirement possible.
While this phenomenon is not unique to South Carolina, the state boasts a larger aging population than many others, meaning it was more heavily impacted.
Best estimates show that South Carolina lost roughly 80,000 workers from 2019 to 2022, Von Nessen said. Of those, about half were of or near retirement age, leaving a pool of 40,000 people the state could target to bring back into the workforce.
Meanwhile, the state has roughly 168,000 open jobs, according to the latest data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.