County More Determined Than Ever to Put Fairfield Residents Back to Work

Although the county’s unemployment rate (based on September data from the Employers Association of S.C.) edged down slightly to 10.6 percent from August’s 11 percent, the economic future for many Fairfield County residents may still not seem too bright. Putting those residents back to work is the mission with which the Deputy County Administrator’s Office has recently been charged by County Council, and the man who sits in that chair, Davis Anderson, has enlisted the help of Jackie Workman, a woman with years of grassroots organizing experience, to see that mission through.

“We have a cultural problem and we have an educational problem in Fairfield County,” Anderson said. “We’re going to try to fix that.”

Workman serves as the county’s community liaison, bridging the gap between citizens and employment agencies, educational foundations and employers themselves. Although she has a desk at the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) offices in Winnsboro, you are more likely to find her out knocking on doors or speaking to churches and other county organizations, tirelessly trying to round up Fairfield’s unemployed and guide them back into the workforce. It hasn’t been easy, as the chronically unemployed continue to feel powerless in the face of life’s obstacles, but in her first month on the job, Workman has helped put 10 people to work.  Still, the obstacles persist, and Workman and the county are working to help people overcome them. The most common obstacle, Workman said, is a lack of education – even a basic high school diploma. And even after earning a GED through either the Adult Ed program at the Fairfield County School District or through the program offered by Christ Central Ministries, more often than not, further education is necessary. Opportunities for advancement exist right here in Fairfield County, she said, at the Midlands Tech campus on Highway 321 N. And tuition costs should not be an issue.

“There are no excuses anymore,” Workman said. “You can get a degree. If you go to WIA and you have a GED or a diploma, they’ll pre-qualify you to pay for school.”

Furthermore, she said, if you are the first person in your family to go to college, you may qualify for a federal program that pays for all or part of your tuition.

Another obstacle that Workman and the county are trying to help people overcome are minor infractions that may exist on their criminal record, preventing them from gaining employment – particularly with companies like the Shaw Group, which is currently at work at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, preparing the site for the installation of two new reactors. The county is currently in talks with the Solicitor’s Office, the Pardon and Parole Board and the Department of Juvenile Justice to find ways to help people with minor and one-time infractions have their records expunged. The problem is, as Anderson pointed out, that process costs money, and we are talking about people who have no job. Anderson said the county is exploring a program that would allow the county to front the expunction costs, to be paid back to the county upon employment.

Transportation is another roadblock, Workman said, and Anderson said the county is considering utilizing its transit system to deliver people to work at Shaw, once that number of employed reaches a cost-benefit threshold. In the meantime, he said, they would have to put forth the same effort to educate and employ themselves as they do to get to the club on Saturdays and church on Sundays.

Workman said she has also gotten resistance from people unwilling to enter the workforce at low-end wages, something she said has to be overcome.

“People don’t want to come to work for $7.25 an hour,” she said. “They think they want to come in and make $10-$15 an hour, but they don’t understand that it’s a process. You have to build up to that. They’ve been sitting around the house making zero dollars for two years or more and not building anything.”

Shaw will be hiring 3,000 people in the coming years on an as-needed basis, Workman said, and Anderson said it was the county’s mission to get people ready for Shaw when those needs open up.

“There is opportunity here,” Anderson said, “and there is going to be more.”

But the opportunities available through Midlands Tech are not limited to the Shaw Group. For example, Anderson said, with 120 hours of course work, one could enter the EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) field at $27,000 a year, which, with overtime, goes over $30,000 a year. A little more training, and one becomes an EMT I, and the pay goes up. Two more years of school, and one becomes a Paramedic, a very high-demand profession.

Last week, Midlands Tech hosted an open house to let people know what kinds of educational opportunities were available there, and the careers that came with them. Workman said only three people showed up. Still, she is not discouraged and said she would keep knocking on doors until everyone in Fairfield County is moving toward employment.

Workman said if you’ve gone online and created an employment profile with Shaw, you’ll need to update it every 30 days, and Dec. 4 Shaw will open an office at Midlands Tech to recruit and assist people in creating their profiles. The offices will be open every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“You have to be ready,” Anderson said. “Create your profile and update it every 30 days at www.Shawgrp.com.”

Workman can help guide you through the steps to further your education and connect you with employers and employment agencies. Contact her at 803-815-0037, ext. 105, or by email at [email protected]

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