Alfonso del Cristo Hilsaca Eljadue
People, programs and partnerships build Georgia’s workforce pipeline.
You don’t have to leave the community to have a job. Getting that message out is part of the workforce education mission in each of Georgia’s 159 counties, says Anna Chafin, CEO of the Development Authority of Bryan County. And as the state prepares for unprecedented new investments in manufacturing, “we want to do a better job of explaining what the opportunities are, earlier, to our students and their parents,” she says. Chafin and her counterparts in the Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority are preparing to address the workforce needs of the state’s largest economic development project to date — construction of Hyundai’s $5.5 billion electric vehicle (EV) and battery manufacturing facility, expected to create 8,100 new jobs.
A state’s postsecondary education system — comprising technical colleges and the traditional four-year college and university system — is typically viewed as the primary partner in the mission of workforce education. Indeed, workforce education is listed among the primary missions of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG). It works hand-in-glove with Georgia’s Department of Economic Development to develop successful programs like Quick Start, which provides Georgia employers with customized workforce training. And preparing students for professional life has long been the mission of academia.
Follow the Career Pathway
The recent double whammy of low unemployment and high job creation is driving the mission of educating for job attainment deeper into the education system – into K-12 – with remarkable results. At the Georgia Department of Education that mission is called Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE). According to the 2020-2021 annual report, more than 664,000 middle and high school students enrolled in CTAE courses and almost 97% of students who earned at least one unit of credit in a CTAE pathway graduated from high school.
“Whatever the pathway, they all connect business needs to what we’re offering in our schools,” says Barbara Wall, deputy superintendent of CTAE. “With our Work-Based Learning Program, when students go into the workforce and work part of the day, they get paid and get course credit. With the workforce shortage right now, we see [companies] more interested in our students than ever.”
Wall cites a recent labor situation in coastal Georgia where local CTAE directors, in partnership with area schools, helped Jekyll Island hoteliers address the shortage of hospitality workers. As a result, the state department of education is developing a unique summer Work-Based Learning Program for credit, which it will pilot next year.
Georgia organizes its CTAE program into 17 career clusters, then further separates the clusters into career pathways. These pathways are designed in response to requests from the local community, with at least 51% input from local business and industry partners. Currently, there are 141 career pathways offered, ranging from film production to health services, FinTech to a commercial fishing program in coastal McIntosh County. The most recently completed Career Pathway was a request from the Toombs County School System and other industry partners to establish a heavy equipment operations curriculum, which was approved in December 2021.
Once a career pathway curriculum is developed and approved, any school system in the state can use it. In July, the CTAE division began working on an electric vehicle curriculum to address workforce needs for the burgeoning EV industry. Students will receive training in manufacturing to serve EV manufacturers and suppliers and to work as EV service technicians. The need for future workers will be substantial. In addition to Hyundai’s anticipated jobs, Rivian, the electric truck and SUV manufacturer investing $5 billion in Walton County, expects to employ 7,500 workers in manufacturing alone. Andy Lindman is a program director of the MOPAR Career Automotive Program and the diesel program at Gwinnett Technical College. (MOPAR is the parts and services division for Chrysler vehicles.) Despite the training differences between combustion and electric vehicles, Lindman says technical colleges are prepared to fill the needs of the state for technicians.
“We can be pretty nimble,” he says. “We added EV stuff into our programs easily over the years, and now we’re working on a separate advanced driver systems certificate and EV certificate.”
“We invited CTAE directors from school systems that neighbor Morgan County – Newton County, where the Rivian plant will be located, as well as down in Bryan County, Bulloch, Chatham, Liberty and so forth – with the Hyundai plant,” says Roger Ivey, program manager for CTAE program delivery at the department of education. “We’ve also invited representatives with SK Battery in Jackson [and] Ascend Elements in Newton County. We have people from Newton County’s economic development board [and] representatives from engineering schools at the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University and Georgia Southern University. This meeting will ask what the actual needs are. We’ll look at our existing curriculum and courses in the engineering and manufacturing, mechatronics and energy pathways to see if there’s something we currently have that can be incorporated or can be completely used in this new pathway.”
At the Bryan County megasite where the Hyundai plant will be built, Chafin says things the county already does – focusing on upskilling workers at the Lanier Learning Center to obtain jobs with existing industries – will help them prepare for what’s to come when the plant is completed in two years. She anticipates CTAE offerings at the county’s two high schools will expand. The Development Authority is also focused on its future labor force.
“We have an event called Industry Day,” says Chafin. “We host about 150 middle school students who visit two different industries before lunch, then hear from an industry executive. It’s a way to build awareness about local industry in Bryan County.”
Regionally, the four counties comprising the joint development authority –Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham and Effingham – are reaching out to existing industries and other partners (the Georgia Ports Authority, for example) to develop a workforce strategy that supports the entire region, not just Hyundai.
Creating Community Allies
In 2017, the Georgia Department of Education launched a pilot program for school systems interested in building a culture of support and promotion for local business and industry partners. Dubbed the Economic Development Partnership (EDP), the five-year certification (endorsed by the Georgia Economic Developers Association) recognizes district-wide performance of best practices and behaviors that assist economic development, support programs and align education with local industries. For students, the program encourages work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities, CTAE pathways and exposure to local business and industry.
Five school districts – Marietta City, Muscogee County, Newton County, Wayne County and Whitfield County –participated in the pilot year and earned the EDP designation in 2018. Since then, 10 more county school systems earned the certification: Barrow, Bibb, Bulloch, Dawson, Fannin, Floyd, Gordon, Hall, Savannah-Chatham and Troup counties. Seven more are currently pursuing it. In practice, an EDP example is Newton County’s Connect Newton Teacher Externship: a one-week summer program taking 20 to 25 educators out of the classroom and into local industry to expose them to the opportunities for high-paying, in-demand careers outside the traditional college pathway. The program is a partnership among the Newton County Industrial Development Authority (NCIDA), the Newton County School System and local business and industry.
“We start with an overview of the state of economic development, the state of careers in the region, and then divide [the teachers] up into teams,” says Asher Dozier, vice president of economic development for NCIDA. “Those teams spend three days out with industry learning about the industry — what it does, careers in the industry. They come back that Friday and present what they’ve learned, how it’s changed their paradigm and how they’ll apply what they’ve learned in the classroom.”
Most importantly, teacher externships create industry and economic development allies in the classroom who are aware of the local job market and aware of students who might be a good fit, particularly those who might not be looking to go to college.
“We’ve found this [program] to be super impactful, even on this small scale, because we’ve got teachers in the classroom who have knowledge to help students who either don’t love school or may not have the support systems in place to be successful in college,” says Dozier. “They can show them how they can be highly successful and have high-paying careers right here in Newton County. Through very minimal upskilling or post-secondary training, students can make $60,000 to $90,000 a year in our local industries. It’s really changed those teachers’ perspectives from being ‘It’s not if you go to college, but where,’ to ‘It’s not if you get success, but how.’”
Dozier says they’re looking to roll out middle school summer camps to drill down deeper into the educational ecosystem to introduce local manufacturing opportunities even earlier.
“We’ll ask, ‘Who knows Bridgestone golf balls are made here in Newton County?’ Or they know what General Mills makes but half of them don’t know there’s a General Mills factory here,” he says. “We’ve done an incredible job of recruiting industry to Newton County but not the best job of making sure our citizens were aware of or prepared for the high-demand careers.”
Newton County extends its collaborative reach beyond the county line to work with partners like Dessa Morris, workforce development director with the Development Authority of Walton County. The two counties, development partners in the Rivian project, have hosted a regional job fair for the past few years, and like Newton County, Walton County hosts annual teacher externships.
“Our partner at the school level is a local group called the Student Success Alliance,” says Morris. “They’re looking to remove any barriers to success, helping students not just to graduate from high school but also trying to set students up to have success in their careers.”
Morris says there’s an emphasis on developing the soft skills employers are desperate for: punctuality, diligence and initiative.
“These are just regular adulting skills,” says Morris. “So even if I don’t know too much about the specifics of engineering and all that, I can help you learn to show up on time every day.”
Georgia’s technical colleges are thriving as local business and industry partners recognize the value of investing in this educational resource. Case in point: Augusta Technical College (ATC) recently announced its largest gifts ever: $1 million from Augusta National Golf Club and $1 million from the Jim Hudson Automotive Group. The two combined gifts will fund a new Automotive Service Training Center to meet demand for automotive technicians. The gifts enable Augusta Tech to purchase a former car dealership to create a unique teaching and training model that will include instruction in everything from automotive business – the front office of a dealership – to vehicle maintenance and repair. There’s even teaching space for motorsports training – the type of work done on NASCAR-type vehicles. The new 65,000-square-foot facility will open this year.
“I’m very interested in doing things that have not been done before,” says. Jermaine Whirl, president of ATC. “For students to come into an environment where they’re learning the hands-on component, learning the business side of it, and actually able to see how a fully functioning dealership operates from start to end is a pretty unique opportunity.”
Irvin T. Clark, recently named president at Southern Crescent Technical College and formerly the vice president of economic development at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Newton County, is laser-focused on addressing workforce needs, especially in core programs of allied health, information and industrial technology, and transportation and logistics. But Southern Crescent Tech also serves the community where Rivian is located. “We’re going to be able to support Rivian, particularly in mechatronics and EV technology,” he adds. “They gave us feedback recently on things that they want to see with EV-related programs. We’re going to take that feedback and put together a program that aligns with their specific workforce needs.”
Meanwhile, on the Metro Atlanta end of I-20, Tavarez Holston, Georgia Piedmont Tech president, is managing development of a $2 million commercial driver’s license range in Newton County and an even larger regional transportation training center in Lithonia. The center, which is being built with $11.9 million in local, state and federal funds, will train workers in commercial driving, logistics and distribution in a region where fulfillment and distribution warehouses are proliferating.
“Our college is trying to position itself as being the premier transportation and logistics training hub for the metro and the region,” Holston says. “How do companies in the region have access to trained workers? This is our response.”
Reclaiming the Narrative
But responding to data-driven needs of the community doesn’t just happen at the secondary and technical college level. Nexus degrees are University System of Georgia credentials specifically aimed at meeting workforce needs in high-demand career fields. The degrees emphasize applied learning through internships and apprenticeships. In fall 2022, the University of North Georgia introduced a nexus degree in applied gerontology, based in part on data that found the 60-plus population in North Georgia is growing at a rate faster than the state as a whole.
“With the nexus degree in applied gerontology, we will work with department of education and the Chamber [of Commerce] to build a workforce to meet the diverse, multifaceted needs of the rapidly growing older adult population in Fannin County,” says Pamela Elfenbein, director of University of North Georgia’s Institute for Healthy Aging. “Students will apply their academic learning in real time. In the three semesters that they’ll be taking upper-division courses, they’ll also be working in the field.”
Meanwhile, four nexus degrees were added at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), as the need for trained workers in Georgia’s film and entertainment industry grows. Beginning in the fall of 2022, the college is offering nexus degrees in professional editing in film/television, motion picture set lighting, production for film and television and production design. In spring 2022, GGC began offering a nexus degree in professional sound design for film and television.
Education plays an invaluable role in the successful efforts to recruit companies to the state, but not enough students know how that translates into jobs for them. Patrick Ledford, economic development liaison for CTAE at the state department of education, says it’s time for educators at every level to reclaim the narrative.
“Now more than ever, CTAE is for all students, whether your goal is direct-to-work or whether you’re going to postsecondary [education],” he says. “We should always tell our story and market our programs and successes. You should ask, ‘When was the last time our stakeholders toured our CTAE lab?’ Little things like that. I think it would be great for every parent to tour the local CTAE lab to understand the offerings that are available. Our programs, along with the other great resources in our state like the technical colleges and university system, are driving a big part of the workforce development engine for the state of Georgia. We all work together.”
This story was produced as part of the Higher Education Media Fellowship at the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. The fellowship supports new reporting on issues related to postsecondary career and technical education.