U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker today toured the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), a campus where academia, the private sector, and government organizations are working together to research and develop leading-edge technologies, and educate and train students for jobs in the automotive industry.
Ensuring that America has a strong and skilled workforce is essential to our economic competitiveness, and that is why Secretary Pritzker has made workforce development a key pillar of the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda.” In fact, she is the first Commerce Secretary to focus on how we can best prepare workers with in-demand job skills. The Commerce Department is playing a key role in this effort by partnering with businesses and other federal agencies to facilitate industry-driven training programs.
CU-ICAR is one example of an educational institution working directly with the private sector to conduct research and training that meets the needs of industry. Since collaboration between academia, the private sector and government started in 2003, CU-ICAR has grown into a 250-acre campus educating students and conducting research that is relevant to the global automotive community. CU-ICAR is studying advanced and highly efficient engine concepts that utilize a variety of fuels, developing technologies that increase vehicle electrification and efficiency, developing and utilizing advanced materials and processes that can reduce vehicle weight and decrease manufacturing costs. CU-ICAR is also working on identifying opportunities and technologies to reduce energy consumption in factories, and addressing issues of safety by designing improved human-machine interfaces and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
Eighteen campus partners from around the world currently work with CU-ICAR in close quarters with students and faculty, including companies like BMW, Focus Chemical, Tigges, and others. The automotive engineering program currently has 18 faculty and 190 students, and is home to one of the country’s only Ph.D. programs in automotive engineering. Both CU-ICAR’s master’s and doctoral programs are designed with input from world-class companies such as BMW and Michelin, which have locations nearby. CU-ICAR has about a 90 percent retention rate in automobile employment.
The Department of Commerce has played a direct role in CU-ICAR's success. In 2009, the Department's Economic Development Administration invested $3 million in the Clemson University Real Estate Foundation, Clemson University, and the city of Greenville to help build the Center for Emerging Technologies (CET) at CU-ICAR. The facility helps complete the technology chain from laboratory to the consumer end-user by providing the office and lab space that companies need to develop new technologies in the automotive, mobility and energy fields.
Following her tour of the CU-ICAR facilities, Secretary Pritzker held a roundtable discussion to hear from local leaders on the collaborative approaches they are using to prepare workers for in-demand jobs. Secretary Pritzker was joined by representatives from BMW, GE, Michelin North America, Agape Healthcare, Clemson University, numerous nearby technical colleges, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the Ready SC/Apprentice Carolina program and other education, industry, and economic development leaders. Together, they discussed the innovative ways South Carolina is working to cultivate a workforce with the skills necessary to succeed.
For example, Michelin North America, is partnering with local schools to attract and recruit students to manufacturing careers and provide them with the technical training the company needs from its employees. When GE couldn't find the workers with the right skills for the jobs they had available, they started an apprenticeship program with Greenville Technical College, which is now in its second year. Dr. Ben P. Dillard, President of Florence Darlington Technical College, described how a network of six schools has developed five stackable certificates for nurses-to-be. This type of training enables students to gain skills outside of a typical degree program, take on entry-level jobs, and achieve the foundation for mobility within the industry.
Many at the roundtable agreed there is much work to be done to interest students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and manufacturing in particular, and Secretary Pritzker challenged the participants to continue working together, sharing their best practices, and scaling their programs up so that the entire nation can benefit from the models that are working locally in South Carolina.