Creating a Skilled Workforce is Ongoing Challenge for Georgia Industries

Fran Putney

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Communities and business districts looking to grow know that economic development and the availability of a skilled workforce go hand in hand. In Georgia’s tight labor market, new ways to attract employees are as important as ever.

“When you talk to employers, economic developers and chamber executives, talent is the top thing on their mind right now,” said Greg Wilson, public service assistant at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVIG) at the University of Georgia. “Businesses and chambers and communities and the state are all looking for new strategies for preparing talent and new strategies for building talent pipeline.”

To address those concerns, the Institute is hosting the Innovating Georgia’s Workforce Pipeline Conference on September 26. It is expected to convene up to 90 partners in workforce development, education, business and economic development, and will focus on effective strategies to support students transitioning from education to career.

One of the conference topics will address so-called opportunity youth, a demographic consisting of 16-24 year olds who are not in school and don’t have jobs. Last May, the first Opportunity ATL Job and Resource Fair was held in Atlanta. The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce (MAC) serves as the backbone organization for Opportunity ATL, which is sponsored by the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative through the Schultz Family Foundation.

According to MAC Director of Workforce Development Amy Lancaster-King, last May’s event at the Georgia World Congress Center brought 3,000 – 4,000 attendees in contact with training programs and employers hiring on the spot, as well as resources such as a clothing closet, resume reviews and mock interviews.

The Opportunity ATL Second Chance Job & Resource Fair in East Point on August 14, for ages 18 and over, will also include representatives from local jurisdictions that can advise attendees who have misdemeanor criminal records. According to Lancaster-King, incorporating an expungement component as part of the job and resource fair is a first for any 100,000 Opportunities programs, as is having solicitor generals from multiple jurisdictions together at one event.

Statewide, Georgia Quick Start, a program of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), develops and delivers customized workforce training at no cost to new or expanding companies as an incentive for them to locate or invest in creating jobs in Georgia.

The program has ranked first by site-location professionals in annual surveys done by Area Development magazine for the past nine years. “I believe it’s because we have a proven track record (since 1967) and provide comprehensive, customized workforce training of the quality and scope that no other state can match,” wrote Roger Brown, Georgia Quick Start executive director, in an email.

In the last year, Georgia Quick Start worked with about 72 companies that created about 5,000 new jobs. Most of the training takes place at a company’s location or at one of Quick Start’s training centers.

Companies like SK Battery, Starbucks, King’s Hawaiian and Baxter (now Takeda) have cited Quick Start as a deciding factor in choosing to locate in Georgia, according to Brown.

Experiential programs like internships bring value to students, employers and even communities. Metro Atlanta Chamber’s ChooseATL After 5 internship program was created to encourage Atlanta-based employers to recruit locally and showcase Atlanta’s lifestyle and culture with events throughout the summer. ChooseATL After 5 started in 2016 with 500 registered interns and has grown to nearly 1,000 interns. This year’s sponsor companies include Cox Automotive, Crawford, Delta Air Lines, EY, Novelis, Southern Company and Turner Broadcasting. The success of the program has spurred After 5 Gwinnett and After 5 N. Fulton, said Jenny Jang, MAC’s director of strategic outreach and engagement for public policy.

Cherokee County piloted last year a six-week, paid summer internship program for high school students, according to Shawna L. Mercer, workforce/communications manager for the Cherokee Office of Economic Development.

This year’s program grew to 12 students from all six county high schools with seven hiring employers: Alma Coffee; Awnex; Cherokee County; NeoMed; Raydeo Enterprises; Roytec Industries and Universal Alloy Corporation.

The companies offered a variety of intern experiences. Universal Alloy, for example, hired four interns this summer with jobs from help desk support to inventory control.

The internships show students that good work opportunities exist in their own community, said Lori Thompson, Universal Alloy vice president of human resources. “When I was growing up,” she added, “Cherokee County didn’t have big employers like Universal Alloy Corporation. It wasn’t even an option to work in my own community.”

The city of Roswell is partnering with the Georgia Department of Labor, according to Steve Stroud, executive director of Roswell, Inc., the public-private partnership that supports the city’s economic development efforts.

The partnership with the DOL is to recruit workers from around the state to a series of expos to support three of Roswell’s largest industries. An expo in August will focus on the hospitality industry, one in November will focus on auto and related industries, and a March 2020 expo will have a medical focus, intended to support the WellStar North Fulton Hospital, according to Stroud.

Showcasing these industries will attract the employed, under-employed and unemployed, he said. “By partnering with the Department of Labor,” he added, “it’s not about the unemployed worker, but their employed worker that they have in their system who’s looking for a new opportunity or to grow.”