You may call him a dreamer, but he’s not the only one. Rusty Denning thinks big when it comes to creating opportunities for people to excel in careers that need them. The associate vice president for economic development and continuing education at Piedmont Technical College is gregarious, determined, and unrelentingly focused on the prize ― meeting the most critical needs of students and employers. His commitment and creativity are key reasons the PTC Area Commission has named Denning its A. Wade Martin Innovator of the Year for 2018.
“Approaching each new challenge through the lens of developing new partnerships, deepening existing business relationships, and finding new sources of funding for innovation, Rusty Denning is constantly scanning the horizon for new opportunities,” Jack Bagwell, PTC vice president for academic affairs, said in his nomination of Denning for the honor.
Denning has been with PTC for seven years. In that time, he has been instrumental in launching PTC’s Ready to Work program, which focuses on helping individuals who are at higher risk for unemployment or underemployment. The program begins with a three-week job readiness workshop in which students receive personalized guidance and resources to address challenges such as records expungement, GED preparation, and job searching. At the conclusion of the workshop, participants can bridge their training into a Quickskills certificate in manufacturing production. At this point, they are employable with room to grow. Tuition for steps 1 and 2 is free (a $2,000 value). Participants then qualify for $1,500 in scholarships toward an associate degree either in machine tool or mechatronics. Ultimately, students come out ready to apply for high-demand jobs in manufacturing. To date, the Ready to Work program has a 70 percent job placement rate.
“Rusty’s work was also a key component in the development and ongoing success of the public/private partnership that resulted in the Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Laurens County,” said PTC President Dr. Ray Brooks.
Among other milestones during his time at PTC, Denning spearheaded a partnership with Duke Energy to pilot scholarship funding for dual enrollment programs. “Rusty’s work has not only helped to create workforce development initiatives, it has also helped the Technical College System to fulfill its mission,” wrote Duke Energy Carolinas District Manager Theo L. Lane in a support letter for Denning’s nomination. “From my perspective, this has helped Duke Energy meet our philanthropic initiatives while simultaneously bolstering our efforts to attract industry to the Palmetto State.”
Denning is a recognized leader in demonstrating how credit and non-credit training can combine to benefit all stakeholders involved.
“Several colleges have adopted Rusty’s approach to training cost analysis as a tool to show companies how different funding sources can offset the cost of training for its employees,” Bagwell said. “In some cases, he has been able to stack these resources together to completely offset the cost, which has resulted in increased training revenue.”
“Rusty always seeks to make training more accessible for local industry,” wrote Susan E. Pretulak, the South Carolina Technical College System’s vice president for economic and workforce competitiveness in a letter of support. “He developed a cost analysis currently used throughout the System to show the reduced cost of training when utilizing Apprenticeship South Carolina, Enterprise Zone, and Lottery funding. … Rusty’s work within the System exemplifies precisely what our System founding fathers intended. Not only does his work serve the companies of this state, even more importantly, it serves the citizens of South Carolina.”