Although state unemployment numbers improved, Bartow County saw a slight increase as did the metro Atlanta and Northwest Georgia areas. Coming off of historically high unemployment rates, state officials discussed options Thursday for the improvement of Georgia’s educational system.
Hosted by the Bartow County Employer Committee/HR Council and the Cobb-Cherokee County Employer Committee, the panel discussion took place at Chattahoochee Technical College’s North Metro campus. The forum, under the banner of Georgia’s Workforce Today and Tomorrow, asked questions of guest panelists from positions within education and government.
Bartow County School System Superintendent John Harper represented local schools and the Georgia Department of Education while being joined by State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development Tricia Pridemore, Deputy Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia Josephine Reed-Taylor and Vice President of Community and Economic Development for Chattahoochee Technical College Glenn Rasco.
Questions began from Moderator Robert Banta, founder and managing partner at Banta Immigration Law Firm. The first point of business was describing the widening gap between current education standards and job requirements for the “jobs of the future.”
“The requirements for certain types of jobs, what might be called jobs of the future — those are ramping up. So, we could potentially have a contrast between the workforce going down in skill levels with the skill requirements for the jobs of the future going up,” Banta said, asking panelists for solutions to this issue. “How can the people in this room and the people on this campus collaboratively work to get our candidates into those jobs?”
Answers to this and other questions led across the board to answers centering on collaboration, perception and change.
Collaboration of efforts was stressed as representatives from several agencies were collected in a single room. The Department of Labor, Department of Education, Governor’s Office of Workforce Development and the Technical College System of Georgia all have resources and opportunities to better equip the state’s workforce. Panel members discussed ways in which the educational system can work hand-in-hand with these groups and private industry to engage students and expose them to new areas of interest.
“The Technical College System of Georgia’s mission is to provide an educated workforce for the state of Georgia. We are very much at the center of working collaboratively,” Reed-Taylor said. “What we’re all about is working collaboratively with all of these agencies ... to make sure that we’re providing the kind of education that is appropriate for our workforce today and the workforce of the future.”
Butler and others pointed to Reed-Taylor and the Technical College System of Georgia for their institutions’ success at preparing students for jobs in their specific geographic location. Technical colleges have improved methods for communicating with employers to tailor curriculum and course offerings for needed positions.
“Things are changing in our state, as has been indicated. It’s been a tough couple of years, but even with that the placement rate for students who come through the Technical College System of Georgia, it’s 80 percent and that is very high given this kind of economy. I think here at Chattahoochee, it’s probably even higher than that,” Reed-Taylor said.
Harper insisted on the need for a perception change in regards to technical colleges, calling for parents and educators to shift from focusing on a traditional, four-year degree toward broader horizons for a more skill-specific education.
“One of the concerns I have seen in public education as I have worked in it for a number years now, is since the Russians fired off Sputnik, the idea was that we had to send everybody to a four-year institution to get a college degree,” Harper said. “But we have found in 2012 that we are having to retool because that is not where the workforce is today because the workforce has changed.”
One of the changes mentioned for public education included the Bartow County College and Career Academy, residing in the old Cass High School. College and career academies are designed to meld high school coursework with technical college training giving students an opportunity to train hands-on in post-secondary vocational studies before they graduate high school.
Harper named disinterest as the No. 1 reason for high school dropouts. Through programs such as the college and career academy and encouraging dual enrollment, the panelists hoped to find ways in which students may remain engaged and interested.
“We’ve raised our graduation rate significantly in Bartow County over the last three or four years, but for every child that leaves us, that’s an issue for us in the community,” Harper said. “We need to provide better instruction for them and better pathways for them so that when they finish, at least that high school diploma, there’s work out there for them.”