Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said unemployment has even dropped below 9 percent this month, with work force and jobs being added in the state.
“The number one issue is the skill of the work force,” he said. “We are hiring, but we can’t find people to fill the jobs.”
Not only does the skills gap hurt the needs of existing businesses in the state, but it detracts from bringing in new business, he said.
Skilled trades in technical fields such as welding, manufacturing and aerospace engineering are in high demand right now.
“Our technical college system is the best in the nation, bar none,” Butler said. “They can change the curriculum on a dime, they can make things happen.”
It’s just a matter of doing so.
“If we’re not putting out what they need, we’re in trouble,” he said. “In technical jobs in Georgia, there are 5,000 active openings. There are jobs out there, but the skill sets have changed. As we go forward, we have to have a tighter partnership in the private sector and education sector.”
Butler — and a panel featuring Becky Cochran, human resources manager for Hoshizaki America, Amy Hudnall, associate director for Aerospace at Georgia Center of Innovation and Lee Whetstone, president of FutureStaff — discussed the challenges and opportunities for the 21st century work force at a Fayette Chamber of Commerce function last week.
Whetstone, Hudnall and Cochran concurred with Butler’s sentiment that there are jobs out there, but finding the skilled laborers to fill them is the crux of the issue.
“We’re filling 20 to 40 jobs every week,” Whetstone said. “Some of the most challenging we’re filling are skilled trades in manufacturing.”
Cochran and Hudnall both said Georgia has a lack of qualified applicants to draw from.
“We have lots of jobs and we’re having to go outside of the state and that’s a big problem,” Hudnall said.
Butler said one response to the issue is getting students in primary and secondary education interested in those technical fields, and to not — as traditionally done — push students to pursue a four-year degree.
“We’ve been telling kids for years that to be successful, you have to go to a four-year school and get a four-year degree and that’s absolutely not true,” he said.
Technical schools offer the education and training necessary to go into the fields that desperately need laborers.
“We have been forcing our school systems away from what really needs to be done,” he said.