Rock Hill business leaders stress need for workers’ ‘soft’ skills

Tuesday’s annual state of the community address before the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce focused not on accomplishments, but on how to create a workforce for the emerging knowledge-based economy.

The consensus of Tuesday’s speakers was that “soft” personal skills go hand in hand with state-of-the-art technology skills.

Students need to master the “soft” skills such as arriving for work on time, having the right work ethic and the “right behaviors. It’s all about teamwork,” said Neil Willetts, general manager of Automation Tooling Systems in Rock Hill.

Willetts also stressed another common theme among business leaders: manufacturing no longer means a rusty, dirty workplace. “We want the geeks, the thinkers, the crazy people, but they have to understand it’s also hard work.”

About 200 business and community leaders attended Tuesday’s breakfast at the Baxter Hood Center at York Technical College.

The official title of the meeting was “Build the Bridge Between Education, the Knowledge Sector and Commerce.”

The breakfast was an extension of other meetings held in the county that focused on developing the workforce of the future. At previous meetings, business leaders and educators have stressed the need for “soft” skills. One question raised at Tuesday’s meeting was who is going to “take ownership” of the issue and be a champion for effective changes.

No decisions were reached Tuesday, but business leaders believe progress is being made.

One example, several said, is more businesses are interested in offering internships so students get hands-on experience.

Kelly Pew, superintendent of Rock Hill schools, said internships, if done correctly, can be part of a “stackable credit system” where students are enrolled in both high school and technical college at the same time. If a student meets all academic and work goals, they can graduate with a high school diploma, a technical college certificate and sometimes have a job too.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066