Atlanta Forward/Another View: Sharpening skills improves prospects

A disproportionate number of these individuals are men.

The consensus among state economists is that job creation throughout the remainder of 2010 will be anemic at best. Lost in the onslaught of bad, and less bad, economic news is the fact that thousands of jobless Georgians are beginning to emerge from the rubble of the most destructive economic disaster since the Great Depression.

These are difficult times, but not hopeless times.

Compelling new evidence confirms that a growing number of Georgians, who watched their jobs and careers topple under the weight of Wall Street greed and arrogance, have embarked on a journey to re-employment and economic security.

During the past 12 months, 750,000 job seekers received re-employment services at Labor Department career centers, arming themselves with more effective résumés, sharpened interviewing skills, valuable Internet job-search techniques and the latest work force information regarding in-demand occupations, prevailing salaries and career paths.

In the midst of the worst job market in decades, 55 percent of the job seekers who received re-employment services from the Georgia Department of Labor were hired within 90 days of registering for assistance. More importantly, 77 percent of those re-entering the work force remained employed for at least six months.

A growing number of unemployed workers are increasing their competitiveness and marketability by enrolling in one of Georgia’s highly regarded technical, two- and four-year colleges. Legions of others have earned certificates and diplomas from private colleges or through federally subsidized training programs.

Proud men and women, mothers and fathers, are making do with food stamps, federal income tax credits and other income support programs to feed and care for their families while they improve their skills and search for work.

Recent analysis by the Labor Department suggests the state’s return on investment in education and retraining is significant and long-lasting. For example, between 2006 and 2008, nearly 82 percent of the Georgians who completed work force training programs found jobs that paid almost one and one-half times their previous salaries.

Despite these accomplishments, Georgia’s employment, education and training system is struggling, and sometimes failing, to adequately serve skyrocketing numbers of displaced and dislocated workers. The sharp increase in male joblessness and their glaring under-representation in training and education programs raise troubling questions regarding Georgia’s future economic prosperity.

Ironically, this severe economic downturn presents Georgia with a historic opportunity to increase our competitive advantage by improving the quality of the state’s most valuable resource — our work force.

Michael L. Thurmond is Georgia’s labor commissioner.

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