Golden Age requires ready workforce

Odie Donald is executive director of Coastal Workforce Services.

I am 35 years old, hold college and graduate degrees, and am a proud Georgian. As someone whose job it is to promote business in the Peach State, I see a lot to smile about.

Georgia is one of the nation’s leaders in economic development, home to the world’s busiest airport, one of its busiest ports and globally recognizable corporations, including aerospace giant Gulfstream, telecom leader AT&T, and logistics behemoth UPS. When selling Georgia, you’re selling a quality product.

Georgia was recently named the best state to do business by CNBC, which also named Georgia’s workforce as the nation’s best. This is no coincidence. In 1993, trailblazing lawmakers delivered the HOPE Scholarship, using lottery proceeds to eventually send millions of students to local colleges and universities. U.S. News & World Report now lists two of Georgia’s universities in the top 20 public colleges nationwide.

Given all that, why then does one of Georgia’s biggest challenges revolve around the availability of a skilled workforce and deficiencies in education – a pair of the most important economic indicators?

The issue isn’t what schools are teaching, but where they place the focus. About 11 million Americans are unemployed, yet businesses are unable to fill 4 million jobs. Those figures point to an increased need for welders, construction workers, and other skilled tradesmen.

The skills gap represents a unique challenge, as many understand the value of skilled trades, yet don’t want their children to enter into them. Stereotypes revolve around the idea that these jobs, not requiring a four-year degree, are less desirable. How can Georgia engage youth in these opportunities, while addressing the perception of skilled trades?

This is one of the most important questions for shaping Georgia’s future. The answer lies in building upon a history of collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Two initiatives offer reason to be hopeful: GoBuild Georgia, a campaign to educate young people on the value of learning a trade while inspiring them to consider careers as skilled tradesmen; and the Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative, which connects the business community and those responsible for training its workers.

In order to remain a leading destination for business, Georgia must build a workforce designed for the future. Looking back on our extraordinary past, I am confident we’re prepared for the challenge.