During the past six months I have purposely doubled the time that I allocate for meetings with area employers. Acquiring in-depth feedback about the current workforce needs around the quality of workforce skills and the work ethics required for entry level workers is proving to be of great benefit considering our dynamic and ever evolving knowledge-based economy. The conversations reinforce and better quantify my assumptions about employment projections for certain artisans and technicians in Southwest Georgia in the coming years. I know more about how the average and median age of the current regional workforce factors into the plans of local hiring managers for the upcoming years.
I estimate that Southwest Georgia will, conservatively, have 2,000 to 3,500 job openings for artisans and technicians in each of the next five years. Depending on the occupation, those jobs will pay between $35,000 and $60,000 and almost all will offer health insurance as an employee benefit. At our current pace, Albany Technical College will realize between 1,500 and 1,800 graduates annually during that period. This means at best 200 jobs will not be filled each year by citizens from within our community. At worse we will not be able to provide 1,000 technically educated employees for area employers.
Are high school graduates a part of the answer? Of course, they are. However, the talent gap for Southwest Georgia will not solely be addressed by high school graduates who successfully complete a postsecondary education program of study as evidenced by the receipt of a certificate, a diploma or a degree. Multiple populations must be considered for optimal alignment between current and future workforce demands and the reservoir of prepared workers.
In addition to high school graduates, the population of adults without a high school credential, adults with only a high school credential, adults with some postsecondary education but no college credential and the population of adults with a postsecondary education credential with expressed interest in re-tooling to remain relevant in the fast-paced knowledge-based economy are all possibilities to consider for workforce preparation. Gone are the days for postsecondary education leaders, practitioners and sympathizers to laser focus on a traditional pipeline to meet workforce demands.
Our community must convince adults without high school credentials to attend adult education classes while they earn a technical certificate or diploma. Albany Tech is adding 18 technical certificates for students who previously could not be admitted to our diploma or degree programs. These programs are a part of Governor Deal’s HOPE Career Grant. This means that for eligible students 100% of tuition and fees are paid through the HOPE Career Grant. We must convince high school graduates and GED attainders to prepare for the future by earning associates degrees, diplomas, and certificates that will document that they are work ready.
All of us together will make Southwest Georgia a more attractive place to work and raise a family. The Albany Tech team will do our part.