FILE - South Carolina flag

South Carolina state flag

(The Center Square) – A project modeled after one in Arkansas will make its way to South Carolina this fall to help close the skills gap in the state by showing students blue-collar jobs are important to the economy.

South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ted Pitts said after seeing Arkansas' Be Pro Be Proud initiative, the chamber reached out to have Arkansas bring the program to South Carolina.

The Be Pro Be Proud SC Initiative looks to instill a want for skilled trades in students who are hands-on and want to know more about these types of careers.

"We found it interesting, so we paid for their fuel and staff time and had them bring it to our chamber board meeting about three or four years ago," Pitts said in an interview with The Center Square. "While they were in town, I called friends like Rick Todd and other skilled professions to come to look at this."

Pitts said Todd, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Trucking Association, then took the lead on the project and brought together a partnership of five organizations to bring the project to fruition in South Carolina.

"There's a lot of work that's been done," Pitts said.

Todd said everything was done under a foundation so there were tax benefits for those who wanted to participate.

"What took us a while to get everybody together was that this is an expensive undertaking; this is a military-grade super heavy-duty specialty vehicle," Todd said in an interview with The Center Square. "It's a 53-foot long double expandable mobile workshop pulled by a Class A road tractor. Then when you add in the simulators and the virtual reality stations that represent jobs and job settings into it, it's well over a million-dollar commitment."

Todd said that was why they decided to do a public-private partnership.

"We went to the Legislature and told them about the collaborative with the groups," Todd said. "We all committed to bring private-sector money together to capitalize on the project. We're raising money to build it."

Todd said the foundation was renamed the Associated Industries of South Carolina Foundation and it brings to the table as many of the state's workforce, economic, education and rehabilitation corrections agencies together to get the project done right.

"From a trucking standpoint, if there is one thing we've heard as leaders of organizations over the last number of years it's that workforce readiness and the number of qualified workers and those interested in hands-on blue-collar trades have been stigmatized," Todd said.

Pitts said when you look at skilled trades, there are great opportunities in the state, and the state needs parents and their children to be introduced to skilled trades.

"When we saw the Arkansas program, we thought what better way to do it than put it on a truck and take it to where those parents and children are," Pitts said. "Virtual, hands-on simulator setups will go to schools and job fairs and lets them interact with skilled trades and will have data that shows job openings per region, starting salary, average salary."

Pitts said the initiative will drill all the way down to middle schools to spark interests in skilled trades.

"When kids walk up to the vehicle, it will look cool," Pitts said. "It is very interactive, with Oculus virtual reality and videos. We think kids that are hands-on will be drawn to this."

Todd said the unit will be black, gray and metallic, with the state flag and the crescent moon images on it so it's easily identifiable.

"This will really have a wow factor," Todd said.

The vehicle is expected to be completed in July or August – in time for the new school year to begin. The agencies are planning for an event at the Governor's Mansion when the vehicle is completed.

"This is going to be a game changer," Todd said.