Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

South Strives to Boost Jobless Workers' Skills

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

South Strives to Boost Jobless Workers' Skills

Article excerpt

Haywood Community College in Clyde, N.C., is about to face the biggest challenge in its history. In 18 months one of the county's major industries - a rubber manufacturer - is shutting down, leaving 800 employees jobless. Haywood's task: helping retrain them.

Many of the workers have been with the company for 30 years and lack the skills to compete in today's workplace. Some will need basic reading and math classes; most will need to learn a new skill for a different industry.

The situation in Clyde, located in a rural county of 48,000 in western North Carolina, illustrates the growing challenge that the South faces in retraining its aging work force. Upgrading the skills of these workers is becoming a regional concern as manufacturing plants close or downsize and the numbers of unemployed, older workers increase. "In the South right now for every plant we're bringing in, a lot of times we're losing several plants," says Sam Wiggins, director of the regional high-technology center at Haywood Community College. "And for each worker who loses a job, there's probably four or five others who are affected." Though retraining older workers is an issue that confronts the nation, some say it's a greater problem in the South because many workers are less educated than they are elsewhere. And demographic trends indicate the numbers of older workers will grow in the South, meaning they will play a critical role in its economic future: By 2010 the region will have 8 million more people age 45 to 64 and 800,000 fewer people age 20 to 45, according to MDC Inc., a think tank in Chapel Hill, N.C. While many community colleges are stepping up to the challenge on their own, a collaborative effort among states and community colleges is needed, says MDC president George Autry. Mississippi, a state usually at the bottom of most lists in many areas, has become a model in this regard. In 1994, Mississippi passed its work force education act that involves all 15 community colleges, the business community, and the state. …

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