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Labor Day celebrates Aiken County’s workforce amid pandemic woes | News

Labor Day is a yearly celebration of labor in America and allows the workforce to be recognized.

That workforce is a little different amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak of 10% in Aiken County in May, it is still at 6.7%, which is higher than the 2.9% from a year ago.

Since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce has had 730,247 initial claims filed and has paid more than $3.91 billion in a combination of state and federal benefits.

Many workers have seen their workday routines change or had to take extra steps to ensure their safety. At the Bridgestone Americas plant in Aiken, operations were temporarily suspended at the start of the pandemic before resuming in April with increased safety and sanitation protocols.

These protocols included “added sanitization stations, temperature screenings, increased social distancing and close contact tracing in the event of a confirmed positive case within a facility,” according to Sara Stanton, a communications manager with Bridgestone.

Aiken County workers have been manufacturing products that Americans use since the 1840s, according to Kelci Avery, a marketing and research director at the Economic Development Partnership. It used to be material for clothing, but today it’s advanced to “pharmaceuticals, automotive components, tires, hygiene products and everything in between,” said Avery.

To help those who are struggling to find employment, the Department of Employment and Workforce is advertising “lifeboat jobs.” These jobs are positions a resident can accept until the economy fully recovers and that offer steady employment during uncertain times.

“We know there are a lot of South Carolinians and their families who are still struggling to find their footing during this pandemic, so we wanted to highlight additional opportunities from an in-demand industry that you can look to as the economy continues to recover,” said Brian Nottingham, the director of the labor market information and business intelligence division at the Department of Employment and Workforce.

A different industry is highlighted each week. For more information, visit DEW’s website.

South Carolina is also launching a statewide bus tour called Be Pro Be Proud SC. The bus is 53 feet long and features hands-on interactive stations aimed at bringing a new generation into the state’s workforce. It is specifically trying to appeal to students who are weighing their options after graduation.

The stations will include “hands-on module simulators for forklift operation, commercial driving, utility bucket operation, diesel technology, heavy equipment operation, welding, carpentry and construction technology, and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine operation,” according to a statement.

For more information, visit the tour’s website at beprobeproudsc.org.

Michaela Berley, who works with retail management at Cold Creek Nurseries, said the company has had trouble finding employees.

“For the job unemployment rate to be so high, we’re not seeing a lot of applications come in,” said Berley.

There are those who are feeling positive for the months ahead and think it’s important to celebrate the laborers of Aiken County.

“These hard working, dedicated people have successfully dealt with the challenges the last five and a half months has thrown at them, and we greatly appreciate their work,” said Avery. “Aiken County manufacturing has weathered the pandemic storm well because in July we had the third lowest unemployment rate in South Carolina.”

“We’ve all worked hard for a year,” said Berley. “We all give it our all to have that little bit of a break, just kind of reset.”

“Employers continually recognize the quality of the Aiken County workforce,” said J. David Jameson, the president and CEO of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce. “I believe that this year in particular, many more folks will pause to be thankful for the hard working men and women who contribute daily to our community.”

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