Dr. Anthony O. Parker

The need for the Alaska oil pipeline became apparent during the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Gasoline prices increased from $.28 per gallon to $.60 per gallon in 45 days. To complicate matters, gas could only be purchased on odd or even days, depending on the last number on your license plate. In addition to this, you could only purchase five gallons at a time. A 2020 comparison would be a price increase from $3.25 to $10.50 per gallon with the same limitations on the amount to be purchased.

Construction on the pipeline began in 1974 and completed in 1977. Crude oil began flowing 800 miles southward from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez Harbor later that year. It takes one barrel of oil eight days and three hours to make the trip. We’ve had a relatively stable uninterrupted supply of crude oil from all sources since then.

Today the shortage of nurses in Southwest Georgia is so acute that we must depend on traveling nurses, nurses from foreign countries, and extreme overtime hours to fill the pipeline. The regional shortages of truck drivers may have postponed the decision to expand some local manufacturing. It takes a minimum of two years to educate an Associate Degree nurse. It takes eight weeks to train a truck driver. Nursing and truck driving are only two examples of acute worker shortages. These shortages illustrate the need to keep technical college students in the pipeline until they successfully persist to graduation and gain appropriate placement.

Albany Technical College and our sister Technical College System of Georgia institutions have significantly increased enrollment, retention, and graduation. We shifted our focus to address the region’s most acute workforce needs. Albany Technical College and Albany State University both invested capital and directed fixed resources toward solving the more acute shortages. Albany Technical College employed additional faculty to prepare truck drivers, nurses, diesel technicians, mechatronics technicians, cyber security specialists, and many more. In short, Albany Technical College’s programs are prepared to deliver the artisans needed to create additional commerce and prosperity.

Unfortunately, an appropriate response to COVID-19 has temporarily suspended on campus classes. The college now delivers all courses on-line or web enhanced/hybrid format. I’m not sure when the delivery of education will return to normal. I’m also unsure what the new normal will look like. I predict that many of our students will not return if we are not proactive. Others will return, but not immediately. Some new prospects may be considering postponing enrollment altogether.

Albany Tech’s challenge is to help create and support that new normal. The college must create or adapt an educational delivery method that maintains quality and compresses learning time. We must increase employer involvement in encouraging new prospects, reclaiming students who left the pipeline, increasing retention, and increasing graduation. Employers must join with Albany Technical College to increase paid apprenticeships. Most importantly, employers should share ideas that our college has not considered.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an enormous set of challenges. Failure to address these challenges are far more hazardous to our physical and economic health than the shortage caused by the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Fortunately, the infrastructure needed to resolve the work shortage problem already exists. We don’t have to build an education pipeline. The 22 colleges in the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) are the workforce pipeline. TCSG Institutions are positioned to provide workforce education that is relevant to each community’s needs. We have great infrastructure and excellent faculty and staff. Together, we must add and keep students in the education pipeline until we place enough graduates to meet Southwest Georgia’s needs. Business and education must work together to create the new normal.