Opinion: Improved literacy at heart of Ga.’s workforce solution

Imagine a state where all Georgians are self-sufficient and contributing to the state’s economy. Imagine Georgia as the nation’s leader for high school and college completion and workforce preparation. Imagine Georgia’s economy as one that will always grow because we have a literate and educated workforce enabling us to recruit and expand businesses statewide.

This is not a dream. It’s within our collective abilities to address workforce preparation and continued economic growth. But we must address the fact that we have a multigenerational cycle of low literacy and we must break this cycle to continue to prosper and grow as a state.

Did you know that one of every six Georgian adults is currently low literate? Sixty-three percent of our third graders are not reading proficiently by the end of their third-grade year. This gap creates tremendous consequences for these children in the future. They are more likely to drop out of high school, have poor health and live in poverty later in life.

Adults with low literacy cost Georgia approximately $1.3 billion annually in social services and lost revenue. This year alone in Georgia, 88 percent of all jobs require a high school diploma or post-secondary credentials and more than 820,000 Georgians do not qualify for these jobs. (Deloitte Study: The State of Literacy in Ga.: Action Needed for Georgia’s Thriving Workforce and Economy)

September is National Literacy Month, and a good time to share these alarming facts with friends and colleagues and ask everyone to join the campaign to end low literacy in Georgia. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and Literacy for All have partnered to create the Georgia Literacy Commission and address literacy rates in Georgia adults and children. Now we need your help. We need companies, communities, parents and individual volunteers to come forward and directly impact this critical need with your time, talent and resources.

My employer, Atlanta Gas Light, and many other companies throughout Georgia recognize the need to remove the barrier of low literacy to have a workforce capable of meeting industry demand. The ultimate goal of literacy instruction is to build a person’s comprehension, writing skills and overall communication skills.

Communities throughout the state are convening, focusing and aligning efforts to create awareness, encourage adults with low literacy skills to attend free adult education and GED preparation classes, and teach parents the importance of talking and reading to their children.

Join me, especially during this National Literacy Month, in finding ways you can get your business, your community or yourself involved in this Campaign to End Low Literacy. For ideas about volunteering, please visit our webpage, galiteracycomm.org/resources.

Wendell Dallas is Vice President-Operations for Atlanta Gas Light and Chattanooga Gas, and Chair of Georgia’s State Workforce Development Board.