LHS students learn of career opportunities

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter


LIBERTY — Liberty High School juniors had a chance last week to learn more about the career opportunities available to them right in their own backyard.

Liberty High School hosted a STEM Manufacturing Day for its junior class on Thursday. Juniors gathered in the school’s auditorium to hear presentations from local employers.

“A lot of very important people, local manufacturers, have taken time out of their very busy schedules to be with us today,” LHS principal Josh Oxendine told his students.

Sometimes, people measure success in high school as earning the diploma, he said.

“Really, that’s just the start,” Oxendine said. “Success is what it is you do with that education, where you go from there.”

He told the students he looks forward to running into them in 10 years.

“I want you to be able to hold your head up high and shake my hand and tell me the wonderful things that you’ve done,” Oxendine said. “I want you to pull up in a nice car. I want you to be able to tell me how you’re supporting your family. I want you to show me pictures of where you went on vacation.

“The education piece is a very important component of that. But the other piece, that we put in front of you today, is what you’re going to do with that education. Where do you go from here? That’s what we’re really going to focus on today.”

Alliance Pickens executive director Ray Farley told students the employers were there that morning “because we care.”

“We want the best that you can possibly get in your life after you leave Liberty High School,” Farley said.

The first speaker was Susan Mason, employment coordinator with Reliable Sprinkler Co.

“Our mission is to be the leading worldwide manufacturer of all of our products,” Mason said.

The company has been around for nearly 100 years. It currently employs 1,000 people worldwide, including 620 at the Pickens County Commerce Park in Liberty.

Some of the company’s clients include BMW, Fenway Park and Soldier Field.

The company is currently expanding, growing its Liberty location and opening facilities in Miami, Boston and Singapore.

“We have a worldwide presence,” she said.

“All of our sprinklers are made here in Pickens County and shipped worldwide,” Mason said.

The company is looking for “a wide range of skill sets,” Mason told students.

Students can join the company right out of school as assemblers. Assemblers can move up a variety of career paths at the company, including leadership tracks.

More technically minded students can pursue degrees and join the company as technicians and move up paths that include production and research and development. The company also offers apprenticeship routes.

Mason stressed the importance of soft skills as well.

“Being able to communicate, work as a team, being able to multitask,” she said. “The stronger you are in those soft skills, as well as the technical skills, the further you can get with Reliable.”

“We’ve got a lot of opportunity,” Mason said. “Reliable’s a great place to start your career. I hope to see you in the future.”

Ronnie Colon, with Easley’s Palmetto Plating, spoke to students about the opportunities available in manufacturing.

He said college didn’t work out for him. Starting out with an entry-level job as a forklift operator, in just six years he worked his way to becoming a plant manager. He is now quality manager at Palmetto Plating.

“Manufacturing’s been great to me,” Colon said. “It gave me the opportunity to provide for myself and my family.”

“The opportunities are there,” Colon said. “If you put forward the effort, listen, follow instructions, you move up quickly and earn more money for yourself and your families. There’s a lot of chance to grow. At Palmetto Plating, we need people who are willing to work.”

He said the pay scale for manufacturing jobs “jumps above everything else.”

The company finishes products for other manufacturers, including the aerospace and automotive industries.

“We deal with a lot of chemistry,” Colon said.

Colon stressed the important of communication.

“You need to be able to communicate with your coworkers, your supervisors and a lot of times with customers,” he said.

The company offers internships.

He invited students to come visit Palmetto Plating.

Carla Whitlock of Apprenticeship South Carolina spoke to students about apprenticeship opportunities. Apprenticeship South Carolina works with more than 120 companies to register youth apprenticeship companies. Five of those companies are here in Pickens County, she said.

Apprenticeships give young workers a chance to get paid while they work and learn on the job. They offer on-the-job training, job education and scalable wages, Whitlock said.

A 1994 graduate of Liberty High School, Whitlock said students today are different than her class.

“Y’all have a lot of opportunities to learn about careers here in Pickens County,” Whitlock said. “Nobody ever set up a forum like this and talked to me about careers in manufacturing. You all have a tremendous amount of opportunity just here in Pickens County to be involved in manufacturing.”

Whitlock said students may have an outdated perception of manufacturing.

“I think you’ll find today manufacturing is very automated,” she said. “It takes a highly skilled person to work in that environment.”

South Carolina is home to 5,000 manufacturing companies, Whitlock said.

She encouraged students to ask their guidance counselors about apprenticeship programs.

“They’re wonderful ways to get exposed to an area of manufacturing that you might like,” Whitlock said. “It also offers you the opportunity to have a credential from the Federal Department of Labor when you get out of the program.”

She also urged students to become involved with the Pickens County Career and Technology Center, if they are not already.

“The career center here is one of the best in the state,” she said. “Not only because of the facilities, but because of the interest the instructors take in the students.”

Farley urged students to “understand what opportunity looks like.”

“Grab it,” he said. “Grab it quick.”

After a morning of presentations, the junior class had a chance to talk one-on-one with presenters during a special luncheon. Companies also represented at the forum included JR Automation Technologies, St. Jude Medical, Zero Connect, United Tool and Mold, Sealevel Systems, VCI Inc. and Tri-Tech USA.