USCOG Workforce Area Receives Federal Funding to Help Job Seekers, Businesses

The Upper Savannah COG is one of nine organizations nationwide to receive U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) funding to help provide training and employment services for job seekers as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic’s impacts.

USCOG’s workforce development staff applied for the funding on behalf of a consortium of five workforce development areas across the state. Upper Savannah is the lead applicant.

The consortium receiving the funds includes Upper Savannah: Abbeville, Edgefield, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda counties; Upstate: Cherokee, Spartanburg and Union counties; Low Country: Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties; Pee Dee: Chesterfield, Marlboro, Darlington, Florence, Dillon and Marion counties; and Lower Savannah: Aiken Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties.

Together, the five areas had more than 100,000 claimants exhaust unemployment insurance (UI). As of July 2021, South Carolina no longer provided Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

The funding will be used to help reach those who have exhausted their UI and need re-employment.

“South Carolina had a substantial reduction in WOIA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) funding,” Upper Savannah Workforce Development Director Ann Skinner said. “The five Workforce Boards anticipate needing funding to respond to the recovery.”

Skinner said workforce development staffs have not been able to reach dislocated workers as well as they have before the pandemic.

“Traditionally, we have responded to events such as plant closings and provided an orientation and offered on-site services. During the pandemic, workers were laid off without notice. Many were fearful of going to an SC Works Center to do job searches (due to the pandemic). We need to have a systematic way of reaching those who are at risk of not returning to work. We will use funding to conduct outreach and develop On-the-Job training contracts.”

Long-term UI claimants are less marketable because they do not have a consistent work history, Skinner said.

“Many have been without health insurance benefits while unemployed. They are now without income support and may need help accessing services,” she said.

The Upper Savannah Area has faced many challenges, including preparing for the closing of the Fuji plant which will result in the loss of 400 jobs by 2022.

Skinner said these aren’t normal times.

“There is unprecedented need at this time for workforce services,” she said. “Employers are rebuilding their workforce following the pandemic. Job seekers are struggling to find jobs which pay as much as the pandemic unemployment benefits paid.

“South Carolina is using CARES funding to offer free tuition for short-term community college programs. Traffic in SC Works Centers dipped during the pandemic and has not yet returned to normal. We plan to engage in outreach to get customers to Centers and alert them to opportunities.”

Assisting the unemployed includes starting with individual assessment and career planning. The goal is to build on clients’ existing skills.

“We will conduct targeted job development to create On-the-Job Training (OJT) opportunities. It is anticipated that significant staff support will be needed to help clients develop soft skills. We will offer supportive services (transportation, dependent care, medical and work clothing). Utilizing OJT will align training with employer needs and provide immediate income support for dislocated workers,” Skinner said.

All five areas operate formula dislocated worker programs and connect with partners as part of the SC Works system, she said. This grant will build on those connections.

USCOG plans on developing videos that will serve as an orientation to dislocated worker services. The video will be placed on YouTube and have links on Local Workforce Boards’ websites. A portion of the video will be generic to South Carolina, but it will be customized for the five areas, she said. Other videos might cover identifying transferable skills and labor market information.

Another plan involves crafting social media campaigns that can be used by all five workforce areas, focusing on getting the job seeker a higher wage and information about skill training. Specialized messages will be offered to high school dropouts and offenders.

Another goal is to get mailing addresses for all individuals who were in the job matching database the week before UI ended. Staffs will send a postcard to each of the approximately 120,000 individuals.

The strategies to be used with the DOL grant funding was crafted by five workforce administrators with more than 100 years experience. OJT was selected as the primary tool to get workers back on the job because income support is built in.

The grant funding will help local businesses as well as job seekers. OJT reimburses employers 50 – 75 percent of new hire wages.

Businesses inquiring about training reimbursement should contact USCOG Deputy Workforce Development Director Billy Morgan at 864 941-8071. Job seekers should contact the Greenwood County SC Works Center at 864 229-8872.