Industry-academic cooperation can grow jobs here

The painful plunge in jobs during the 2008-09 “Great Recession,” followed by the too- slow recovery, has caused local unemployment rates to exceed the nation’s. Job creation in metro Atlanta and Georgia has lagged the nation’s recovery, although it shows signs of accelerating recently. What can be done to spur job creation in the state and its capital city?

Efforts to recruit manufacturing firms and incubate tech startups are succeeding in creating some good jobs. However, this welcome growth can only be a partial solution. Automation and offshoring — “robots and Asia” — imply that the bulk of job creation must come in service industries.

Georgia residents must be prepared for new jobs in health services, professional and business services, teaching, and information services. From 2010 to 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook reveals that nearly all of the 20 occupations with the most new jobs (highest projected numeric gain in employment) will be in service industries. The Top 5 will be registered nurses, retail salespersons, home health aides, personal care aides, and office clerks, resulting in over 3 million new jobs in just these five fields.

How can Georgia succeed in preparing its potential labor force for the industries that could help solve the employment gap? We must educate a new generation and train the current working-age population to fit the existing and future job openings.

A deepened cooperation between Georgia’s colleges, including technical colleges, universities, and business is needed to tap into strengths on the diverse campuses and leverage them to benefit students statewide. Additionally, even as early as high school, students should begin vocational and skills training to prepare them for the jobs of the future. Some Georgia high schools already do so, but enhanced efforts are needed, including streamlining access to continued training at the college level.

Advances in online education make all of this more possible. Imagine bringing Georgia’s best professors and curricula to all students statewide! Increasingly, jobs in growing industries entail working on teams of diverse individuals. Preparation for this can be accomplished by having “virtual teams” of students from different campuses complete projects.

Speaking as a professor, academia certainly does not have a monopoly on skill development. Education must be integrated with productive internships, as it is in Germany – the healthiest economy in Europe.

Georgia boasts world-renowned educational initiatives, such as the Georgia Tech-Emory partnership in biomedical engineering (projected to be the third fastest-growing occupation in the BLS report cited above). We must leverage such strengths to create jobs in a spectrum of allied industries. The two national research universities in this partnership, along with UGA, can help catalyze growth.

Ultimately, it is the increasing ability of Georgia’s massive system of state universities, two-year colleges, and technical colleges to complement each other — as well as firms in the growth industries that will determine if Georgia can once again lead the nation in job creation.

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