Savannah Morning News
Adam Van Brimmer
The local workforce generation gap is wider than the Talmadge Bride, and state officials want to help span it.
Gov. Nathan Deal launched the “Go Build Georgia” initiative earlier this year through the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development. The program promotes opportunities in skilled trades and targets high school counselors, teachers, students and parents.
The state’s workforce development head, Tricia Pridemore, outlined efforts in visits to Savannah and Brunswick on Tuesday.
“We’ve told two generations of kids they have to go to college, and it’s left us with a shortage of people who can build the offices the college-bound aspire to work in,” Pridemore said. “We need to work to change those perceptions.”
Pridemore has identified more than 16,500 skilled labor openings that are or will be available in Georgia this year. She expects the pace to pick up over the next four years as more baby boomers retire. Half of all skilled trade workers are between the ages of 47 and 65.
By 2016, Pridemore’s office projects a need for 12,000 truck drivers, 5,000 construction workers, 2,800 electricians, 2,800 first-line supervisors, 5,000 carpenters and 2,000 welders. Those jobs pay hourly wages between $14 and $23 an hour.
“We want to reset the dialogue, to make sure students and parents realized the opportunities that are there,” Pridemore said. “We have 9.2 percent unemployment in this state (8.9 percent in Savannah). Yet Georgia companies have thousands of openings to fill.”
The shortage of skilled workers is no secret locally. Large manufacturers like JCB, Mitsubishi and Gulfstream actively promote workforce development. Those companies are partnering with educational institutions like Savannah Technical College and the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools on new skilled-trade programs.
The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) recently spearheaded a collaborative workforce initiative. The movement trends with the “Go Build Georgia” approach of focusing at the high school level.
“We need to inform the high school kids of all the options out there to address our workforce issues,” SEDA CEO Steve Weathers said. “Be it a trade or a more of a college-degree track, they have options. The marketplace has an increasing demand in skilled trades.”
Pridemore is counting on high school counselors to help spread the word and met with counselors from around the region Tuesday night at the Golden Isles Career Academy.
Pridemore handed out red cardboard toolboxes that included information on 10 skilled trades ranging from masonry and carpentry to welding and heavy equipment operation. The literature included average wages, necessary traits and descriptions of the work tradesmen in those jobs perform.
The average Georgia high school guidance counselor works with 400 students a year.
With Georgia high schoolers preparing to take the Criterion-Reference Competency Tests (CRCT) in coming weeks, students need to understand the options in order to keep test scores in perspective.
“It’s important to get the message there now because we don’t want to lose kids because they don’t want to take the CRCT,” Pridemore said.