Opinion: One big thing holding back Georgia’s economy

A student works with two instructors to in the on-set film production class at Gwinnett Technical College, February 2016. The film industry is one of the sectors seeking more trained workers in Georgia. (AJC Photo / Taylor Carpenter)

The problems ailing rural Georgia are, like much in the realm of public policy, complicated. How to improve schools and boost health-care access in sparsely populated areas? How to connect more small-town homes and businesses to high-speed internet?

But those tasks seem relatively straightforward compared to the top economic-development challenge for Georgia, rural and otherwise: producing a quality, trained, reliable workforce.

“The reality is workforce can be a vast labyrinth (for policymakers), because there are a lot of different factors that affect the quality,” says Amy Lancaster, director of workforce development for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “The education system is obviously a big piece of that, whether k-12 or post-secondary. But the opioids (epidemic), criminal justice reform — all those things have a big impact, so it’s hard to limit or confine it to one issue or agency.”

Members of the House Rural Development Council spent the better part of their most recent meetings, one day in Ellijay and one in Dalton, trying to get their arms around the issue. More grappling is needed, but here are a few key takeaways so far.

First, there’s a disconnect between what students hear about job preparation and what employers really have to say.

“We have teachers in our own backyard telling students, you can do better than working in the mill,” Brian Cooksey, head of training and talent development for Shaw Industries, told lawmakers. “This is not the mill of old. It’s an advanced-manufacturing facility that offers opportunities all over the world if you can take advantage” of the experience gained from working in it.

Even if industry could root out anti-blue collar bias in high school counseling offices, there’s a mismatch between what students want to study and which courses are in highest demand.

“The course offerings may not be aligned with local demand, at least not from the employer side,” Lancaster says. “It may be aligned with what students are interested in, whether that leads to employment or not.” Thus Georgia’s persistent shortages of welders and truck drivers, even though enrollment at technical colleges is strong.

Another problem, she says, is technical colleges might offer the right general type of training or certification employers want, but not the specific curricula prospective employees really need.

“It’s not all the school’s fault. And it’s not all employers’ fault,” she summarizes. “There are no incentives in the system at the two-year degree level or the four-year degree level to align with employer demand. It’s all driven by student demand. And they don’t know … what employers need or what the landscape” looks like.

The state has tried to address that by offering free tuition in 12 high-demand fields offered at its technical colleges. It’s a start, but here we circle back to the part about whether students know there’s a job waiting for them in, say, diesel equipment technology or precision manufacturing.

These challenges exist across the state, but they’re more acute in rural areas because the opportunities — both for education and for employment — are fewer. Finding solutions to them is another way what’s good for one part of Georgia is good for all.

Reader Comments 0

40 comments
AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

This seems so simple. If there is a high demand for skilled labor and low supply, you should see higher and higher wages to increase supply - that's not happening. Republicans preach market forces but want someone else to solve their problem of offering low wages when the supply is low.

DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

Another problem, she says, is technical colleges might offer the right general type of training or certification employers want, but not the specific curricula prospective employees really need.


I thought Georgia's Quick Start program offered employer-customized training through the technical college system, no?

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Maybe the people in the urban areas can subsidize healthcare and internet access to the rural areas with the same socialism policies that gave us rural electrification, TVA, and telephone's universal service charges. If not for socialism, could anybody afford to live outside of the metro Atlanta area?

breckenridge
breckenridge

@Ychromosome 

You cannot have a socialist system without the government seizing private businesses and making them state owned.  Ergo your definition of socialism is not valid.

Starik
Starik

@breckenridge @Ychromosome  Of course you can, especially when there are no private business providing serves at an adequate level for a reasonable cost. 

dg417s
dg417s

I was in a workshop and it was brought up that management at the Kia plant said something to the effect of if students can come being able to do basic math, speak proper English, and have the necessary soft skills to be a functional member of a workplace (i.e. keeping their pants at their waists, showing up on time, etc.) then Kia could train them to build a car and make a good living doing that. Unfortunately, we have too many people making decisions that have no idea about how to actually teach children other than "well, my mama was a teacher and her mama before her was too." That is the problem with our current educational system - we try to fit everyone into one mold. Not everyone needs advanced algebra, but many schools don't offer a consumer math course. We now have inserted title pawns and payday loans as "financial institutions" into the Economics curriculum - and not saying avoid at all costs. We need to really partner with Georgia business and find out what they need - if it is someone with a B.S. in engineering, fine, let's develop those programs. If it's basic soft skills, well, we need to get those programs in place. We need a serious reexamination of how we run things in this state so that students from every corner of Georgia have the same opportunity as do students in northern Fulton County.

An Intelligent Georgian
An Intelligent Georgian

@dg417s No argument about all of your post except "keeping their pants at their waists" - did Kia say that? Or did people add it who have negative opinions about black youth?

dg417s
dg417s

@An Intelligent Georgian @dg417s For what it's worth - most of my African American students are doing that now, so I am hopeful that the trend is ending, but I don't know. It came through a couple of people. Regardless, wearing a pair of pants properly is an important soft skill.

jhgm63
jhgm63

Back in the day, those "evil" unions provided apprenticeship programs. In some cases, they partnered with the schools to help train the kids to prepare them for a job once they graduated. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

BTW. Free tuition? You sounding like a Bernie supporter. Lol.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

Seems some of these profit schools are more concern in increasing student enrollment than actually providing an education that an employer needs. I am for rooting out these schools that churn out students with low job placement rates.



Falcaints
Falcaints

Would not a good apprentice program solve much of this problem?  Why don't the industries work in concert with the schools?

Caius
Caius

Good column and report on where we stand with this issue.


JohnnyReb below has a good point (below) on national service as a partial solution to the basic problem of ignorance.  Worked for many over the decades.







RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"We have teachers in our own backyard telling students, you can do better than working in the mill,..."

Well maybe they can! Not all will be satisfied by mill work. First they must have motivation to learn. Then they need to stay clear of drugs and ethics violations. They need to develop a strong work ethic. All the above have been comments made by those searching for dedicated , reliable workers.


Another thing is to "advertise" the requirements, benefits, and opportunities available in trade jobs. Most kids do not think about the future until it is too late or later in their lives. They just want to get thru math and other challenging courses that they will need in the future. Many come out of school clueless.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@RoadScholar

"many come out of school clueless"

Bingo

Thus my post below on reinstating the draft and creating a National Service.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@JohnnyReb @RoadScholar


I prefer encouraging graduating students to enroll in peace corp. or some service work like it.


Reinstating draft is a non-starter. Military is not for everyone. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Two years in the military after a short break following high school.

If that would overload the military, then a National Service program, military style, also.

That would change the whole equation. 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JohnnyReb Unfortunately many can't take the discipline dispensed in the military, let alone the self discipline needed. They are more interested in their phones than working.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JohnnyReb @RoadScholar Agreed....but who's their to motivate them? Read Hillbilly Elegy and that is the underlying theme of the excellent book concerning people mired in the negative culture in Kentucky and elsewhere. It's a book about achievement and moving up.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Visual_Cortex @RoadScholar @JohnnyReb Don't know if you are making fun of me, but t put my comment into perspective, my wife is a college professor who has many students that can't take instruction because their head is somewhere else. Don't get me wrong she has many gifted students, but most do not have a clue about a career or good work habits.

Mandingo
Mandingo

This is Georgia. As long as they can spell their names and count change they are considered highly educated. Georgia will pay low wages for strong back labor and show a real disdain for the people with college degrees.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Good stuff, Kyle. A couple of additional thoughts:


1. thanks for including the link here: " free tuition in 12 high-demand fields offered at its technical colleges."  I'm a little disappointed that there's no apparent program available for those who seek a degree that'd be associated with law enforcement work, however (criminology, forensic science, etc.) - seems it'd be a win-win if we did.

2. Rather than always presuming that educational institutions will (or even should!) slavishly meet a market need for employers in real-time, wouldn't it make sense to offer more incentives for employers to spend money on on-the-job training? I'm not saying one replaces the other, just that those are complementary public needs.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex A big part of the Dalton meeting was spent hearing companies (Shaw and others) talk about the efforts they're putting into doing that. It's more like a reinvention of the old work-study programs that used to exist when I was in high school -- done in combination with local technical colleges through dual enrollment, Move on When Ready, etc. It was more than I could squeeze into this column. But it isn't yet being done on a scale to supplant the concerns I raised here ... although I do get the sense employers are tired of waiting for public agencies to get their act together, and are intervening in local cases where they can.

If you're really interested in this and how it may be scaleable in Georgia, start here: http://gppartnership.org/


RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex In the past, high schools used to have trade programs with local companies that kids could get on the job experience and training while still going to high school. My niece who is a senior at Kennesaw State  studying graphic design has had courses that are taught and set up like the operations of a private company not only learning how, but also learning what is expected. The reviews can be very pointed based on their level of focus and deliverables. 


Some kids can't read and understand a syllabus let alone what the workplace expects!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Off topic, but the ajc.com's latest new round of pop-up windows accompanying the paywall material really gets on my t!ts.

DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

@Visual_Cortex No kidding. I think the AJC has some rookie talent running their web stuff over there. 


I recently went to modify my subscription, and wasn't able to do it online... had to call the service center. 


Kyle, may want to tell your management that this internet thing isn't going away... y'all may want to hire some folks who know what they're doing. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex Are you talking about the one promoting Politically Georgia, or the one for (or at least, supposed to be for) non-subscribers? I know we've added the former, probably on a temporary basis, and changed the latter.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

Doesnt t the tech colleges have career /job centers that interact with employers...Thats how students and the schools know what employers require from employees.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@BuckeyeGa How about some in High School so the kids can tailor their learning to what interests them?

DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

Change all the "R's" to "D's" and this is a bunch of big guvmint. 


Throw Obama in there and it's "Totalitarian socialism", whatever that is. 

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

The bias against mills is because its not stable. A lot of kids probably have parents who were laid off from mills. Truck driving and welding are both extremely hard jobs. Hot and long hours. Most people won't aspire to that no matter what you do.

It seems like the employers just need to start apprenticeship programs. That would solve everyone's problem.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@JFMcNamara

It seems like the employers just need to start apprenticeship programs. That would solve everyone's problem.

Agreed and see Item #2 above in my post, but given how these Southeastern States are continually in a race-to-the-bottom when it comes to funding incentives for such things, it's going to take some political courage to make that financially attractive for a business located here.

Of course the real answer is for this to be mandated at the Federal level and treat this like one damn country (an unimaginably rich, powerful one, I might add), not fifty dinky ones, but that's an argument for another day.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JFMcNamara Could it just be motivation to get the kids to achieve instead of just watching the world go by?