Beaufort County School District tackles unemployment for young adults

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 22, 2013 

The Beaufort County School District has a new job for local businesses: help young adults become employed.

While both the national and state unemployment rates have declined since the recession, unemployment for one age group remains startlingly high.

The jobless rate for ages 16 to 24 in South Carolina is 22.9 percent -- more than double the state's overall rate of 8.1, according to a report by Young Invincibles, a national organization that seeks to expand economic opportunities for young adults.

The state's rate also exceeds the national average of 15.6 percent unemployment for the 16-24 age group, according to the report.

The school district began working this fall to change those statistics by gathering input from local businesses and offering internships throughout the community, according to Superintendent Jeffrey Moss.

"With the amount of competition that exists right now in the workplace, anything we can do to give our students a competitive edge to help combat that statistic needs to be done," Moss said.

The district is working with the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce to create what Moss calls a Committee for Economic Competitiveness.

The committee will consist of 20 to 25 businesses that will give their perspectives on the skills students need for the job market, Moss said. The chambers are compiling lists of business representatives to recommend to the district for the committee.

Moss said the committee also will help the district see where job skills can be added to the curriculum.

Some of the skills most lacking in young adults, according to businesses, are teamwork, communication, time management, problem-solving and adaptability -- so-called "soft skills."

"I think it's a big issue, for sure, and I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of education for students," said Kyle Warren, owner of Rapid Refill Ink in Beaufort. "The basic soft skills that we see are really lacking in the community right now are the skills that our franchise and so many businesses thrive on."

Warren said he wants to serve on the committee and believes a renewed focus on helping young adults succeed in business is needed. He also hopes to offer students internships through the district.

Blakely Williams, chief executive officer and president of the Beaufort chamber, said many businesses have expressed interest in working with the district and offering internships.

The internships could extend to teachers, as well, school board Chairman Bill Evans said. Through the committee and partnerships, teachers could serve as "interns" during their summer breaks to get an inside business perspective to take back to the classroom.

Moss said he expects the committee to be in place and internships started by spring.

All of these initiatives should improve students' opportunities in the future, Evans said.

"This is a new emphasis if not a new direction for us," he said. "We all know a high school diploma doesn't carry very far anymore, so we need to look at how to get students into other options."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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