In a Monday visit to Richmond Community College, U.S. Rep Richard Hudson discussed job creation and educating unskilled workers with members of the local business community.
“One of the keys to jobs, as you all know in this county very well, is that you’ve got to train your workforce,” Hudson said. “You’ve got to have folks that have the skills necessary for existing employers, but also for any future employers you might bring in.”
Hudson has been in office as North Carolina’s District 8 representative since January. Monday’s discussion covered barriers to employment and education faced by many Scotland County residents, including the opportunity cost of sacrificing a low-wage job in order to acquire the education needed for a skilled position.
“Motivating them to educate themselves I think is a difficult process because if they can go get a job making $10 an hour, they’re going to do that because they’ve got to pay their light bill versus taking time away from work to go get an education or taking time away from their family to improve their skills, and its hard for them to see how to do that,” said Scotland County commissioner Guy McCook. “We’ve got to find a way to motivate people and support them through that process so that they can be better educated and be a more productive part of society.”
According to Betty Galloway, manager of Laurinburg’s Employment Security Commission office, many individuals formerly employed in now-defunct plants are functionally illiterate and not qualified for most jobs available in the 21st century.
“It is really hard to get individuals to see the need to go back and get an education and get some type of degree,” she said. “There were some at these plants that closed, their reading level was so low that they could not even come to Richmond Community College for remedial classes, it was so low.”
Other barriers to finding a job include drug addiction, for which the ESC office does not test, criminal background, and the expense of childcare.
“We have so many employers here in Scotland County that say that corporate will not allow them to hire anyone with a felony,” said Galloway. “They can work at Smithfield, but they have to wait five years, and what are you going to do for five years? You still have to eat and keep a roof over your head. So it’s been a challenge.”
As a member of the congressional Education and Workforce Committee, Hudson also spurred discussion of technical careers and their increasing availability. Greg Wood, CEO of Scotland Health Care System, said that the system’s greatest present demand is not for doctors but for skilled medical technicians to operate high-tech machinery in fields like radiology. Those careers typically require only two or three years of post-secondary education.
“The early college program is a tremendous success here in Scotland County and in Richmond County, and we need to be able to apply the same concepts in the early college, which now serves students who want to go to a four-year school, we need to have that available for folks who want a two-year degree in a technical field,” said RCC President Dale McInnis. “Right now the technical route is sort of frowned upon.”
A recurring theme of the discussion was a need for greater flexibility on the local level in allocation of grant and program monies.
“What I head loud and clear was that there are too many strings coming from the federal government and requirements that if you get a computer through this program you can’t use it for another program,” Hudson said. “The other really big thing is that we want to streamline the process from high school to community college for those who want to be on a technical career track, that don’t want to do a four-year college.”