Building a Community

Spartanburg Regional, community partners invest in the construction trade.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

by Alan Jenkins and Melinda Young

At one time, Lauren Rogers planned to become a speech pathologist and work in the corporate arena.

“I never would have considered construction,” she said.

Now 28, Rogers owns her own business, IB Industries, and employs eight people. The company focuses on construction worksite cleanup.  

Her training comes from an unlikely source – Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.

Hard to find
Plumbers. Electricians. Carpenters. They’re all essential to a hospital system that is constantly growing. They’re also hard to find in today’s economy.

“Right now, hiring skilled labor is a next-to-impossible task,” said Jason Head, construction-renovation manager at Spartanburg Regional. “It’s harder and harder to find people who are trained and know how to do the work on day one.”

So, Spartanburg Regional leaders decided to train their own.

In 2016, the health system teamed with Spartanburg Community College and the National Center for Construction Education and Research, a nonprofit that provides global training and certification, to provide construction skills training to area residents.

Community members sign up for classes in construction and specialty training in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical construction. Most of the students came from the Northside neighborhood in Spartanburg, an area experiencing a renaissance as community leaders work together to alleviate high unemployment and poverty in that area.

While there are fees associated with the class, scholarships provided by community organizations such as the Northside Development Group have covered the costs. The nonprofit SC Works pays the trainees’ work during the 12- to 16-week internships.

The program has many partners – Spartanburg Regional, the Northside Development Group, the City of Spartanburg, the Upstate Workforce Board and OneSpartanburg.

The training has worked. After passing individual certification tests, students are finding jobs. Five graduates were hired by contractors that work with Spartanburg Regional. Others are being hired soon after they earn their certifications.
The certifications qualify workers for construction jobs anywhere in the U.S., thanks to the involvement of the community college and the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

More than labor
For Rogers, going into the construction industry isn’t just about finding a good job. It’s about changing perceptions.
“It’s more than just labor,” Rogers said.

“‘Trade’ was a bad word. You think of it as lowly, but trades are needed.”

As a black woman, Lauren is an anomaly in the industry. Only 9.1 percent of the construction labor force are women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Only 6.1 percent of the labor force are black or African American.

IB Industries is one of only two minority-owned construction-related businesses in the area.

Rogers heard about the classes through the Northside Initiative Program. She enrolled in March 2018.

A win-win
The construction training partnership puts anyone who finishes it in a position to earn more than many people who graduate from college with a four-year degree, Head said.

“I personally know of young men and women who are earning $60,000 a year doing construction work,” Head said. “It’s a win-win for us and a win-win for students.”

The cost of providing the training is minimal. Most of the students receive scholarships through the Northside Development Group, and Head’s staff trainers do not take a salary.

A better life
Before the Construction Training Program, Stephen Hill was unemployed – and homeless.

“When I found out about this Northside program, it was near me,” Hill said. “It was in Spartanburg, and all I needed was the transportation to get to class.”

Head picked Hill up to go to class. He taught Hill about carpentry.

“After class and after the whole program was over, I started earning money,” Hill said. “I went out and saved up my money and found me an apartment.”

Creating jobs
Renee Romberger served as a driving force behind the program’s creation. A retired vice president of community health policy and strategy for Spartanburg Regional, Romberger was recently awarded South Carolina’s highest civilian award, the Order of the Palmetto.

With support from Romberger and Spartanburg Regional’s leadership, Head’s hard work made the program a reality.

The Construction Training Program is a shining example of the many partnerships that are transforming the Northside, according to Spartanburg Medical Center President Phil Feisal. And while Spartanburg Regional has been able to fill its own needs with the program, graduates can take their certification and get a job “within our community or beyond.”

The construction skills training course is now available beyond the Northside.

Jessica Pickens and Darrel Thomas contributed to this report.



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