Connecting students to jobs key to growth

By C. Grant Jackson

Senior Vice President/Community Development

Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce

We’re growing talent in Famously Hot Columbia and a lot of that talent would like to make our region home. But for that talent to remain here, we need to connect it to jobs. When the Graduation Imperative surveyed the region’s colleges and universities on why more students don’t graduate, the No. 1 answer was money. Many students struggle to meet the cost of college today and others say they just see their parents or themselves spending all that money with little prospect of a return by way of getting a good job.

The Graduation Imperative – a collaborative effort of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce/Navigating from Good to Great Foundation, the Central Carolina Community Foundation, Columbia Opportunity Resource (COR) and the S.C. Higher Education Foundation – is working to improve college degree attainment rates in the Columbia region. And, to keep more of that talent here.

COR is doing a great job of helping Columbia build that sense of place that, as Mayor Steve Benjamin said, is so important for people “in deciding where they will live and bring their time, talents and treasures.” COR is fulfilling its mission of connecting “young, talented professionals in the greater Columbia area to diverse and meaningful networks for leadership, service and fun.”

But a recent Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll also points out that 67% of Americans believe that attaining a college degree is very important to getting a good job. In other words as Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education put it: “Give me a good job, not just a degree.”

And education does pay. In 2012, the unemployment rate for individuals with a bachelor’s degree was 4.5% with a median weekly wage of $1,066. For an associate’s degree the unemployment rate was 6.2% and the weekly wage was $785. The unemployment rates were even smaller  – and wages higher  – for people with master’s and doctor’s degrees. Contrast those numbers with only a high school diploma, unemployment of 8.3% and a wage of $652, and less than a high school diploma, 12.4% unemployment and a wage of $471. The figures are from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In some ways, “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job,” wrote Catherine Rampell in a story in the New York Times last month.

“Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma – positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters – are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 on-line sources,” Rampell said.

The task to fill the jobs is two-fold.  One, colleges must do a better job of preparing graduates for jobs – more graduates with more marketable degrees. Two, we need to do a better job of connecting students coming out of colleges and universities with available jobs in our region so that more of the talent will stay here.

To help better connect college graduates and the local job market, the Graduation Imperative and its eight education partners will stage the first Famously Hot Career & Talent Expo on April 11, at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

In partnership with Allen University, Benedict College, Columbia College, Columbia International University, Midlands Technical College, Newberry College, South University and the University of South Carolina, the Graduation Imperative is offering employers the chance to connect with students and alumni of all eight schools on a single day in a single venue. One day, one venue, eight schools.

The expo is for all employers – private, non-profit or government – who have full-time or part-time jobs or are interested in hiring an intern. We also encourage employers to offer job shadowing opportunities. If an employer is considering expanding and adding staff but not ready to hire, the expo is an opportunity to connect with eight potential sources of talent.

To register, employers should go to Employers who are members of any Chamber of Commerce in the Columbia region will pay a reduced registration fee.

Students as well as recent graduates and alumni of the partner schools are encouraged to explore possible careers. They should contact their school’s career services office to register. Several employers including SCANA, Verizon Wireless and Richland County have signed up. Sponsors include Spherion Staffing Services and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

More information about the Graduation Imperative as well as links to other relevant information can be found at

C. Grant Jackson is senior vice president/community development for the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (803) 733-2513 or at


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