March 9, 2015- Albany, GA from The Albany Herald- In December of last year, Gov. Nathan Deal released the findings from his High Demand Career Initiative, which addressed Georgia's most important work force needs. The report highlighted overall trends, high-demand careers and skills, challenges, recommendations and what Georgia businesses anticipate they will need to compete globally over the next five to 10 years.

The report set specific goals in the areas of enrollment and graduation rates for the state's post-secondary institutions.

"Throughout my administration, I've made it a top priority to promote Georgia's high-quality, highly skilled work force infrastructure," said Deal upon the report's release. "This report represents a long-term collaborative commitment to ensure that all Georgia companies have the support they need to be competitive in the global marketplace. I am confident that the expertise provided by education and private-sector industry leaders will boost our state's economy and maintain Georgia's status as the No. 1 place in the nation to do business."

The High Demand Career Initiative focused on the future needs of strategic industries in Georgia, including agriculture, aerospace, automotive manufacturing, defense, film, television, interactive entertainment, health care, life sciences, information technology, logistics and manufacturing.

The report quickly caught the attention of Albany Technical College President Anthony Parker. One of Deal's goals is for the state's technical colleges to achieve a 4.7 percent increase in graduation rates each year until 2020.

"For expansion of work force development in high-tech manufacturing positions, you have to start with a bold ambitious plan," Parker said. "There is nothing in that plan, other than film and entertainment, that we aren't already involved in. We are obviously an agribusiness center. If you look at Albany Tech, Darton State and Albany State, I don't see where there is much we could not prepare to do if we are aggressive and do our part in setting high expectations and then managing it."

The problem for the three local institutions is enrollment. With a dwindling regional population and falling enrollment in the Dougherty County School System, the numbers the governor is targeting represent a major challenge.

"We have to maximize the number of students coming out of high school," Parker said. "We've got to reduce the (high school) dropout rate. I think the overall plan we are developing with the school system and the three colleges is going to yield some uptick in the percentages of those graduating from high school. But we have to take other opportunities also. Our enrollment is not going to come from all 'traditional' students. Look at the number of adults out there who need to be educated or re-educated.

"We are working now with Valdosta State (University) to find innovative ways to work together to develop programs that are going to be attractive to both industry and non-traditional workers. We have to reach into the work force that has reached its potential with the skill sets that they have by introducing another group of skill sets."

In short, ATC, ASU and Darton are going to have to create and attract a new pool of potential students.

"You're right, the math doesn't work for the continuous graduation of students the way they have traditionally come to us," Parker said. "But if you look at the number of underprepared individuals that we are going to need to attract precision manufacturing in the automotive industry, other defense contractors might want to colocate because MCA (Maintenance Center Albany) is already here."

Parker pointed to the South's manufacturing boom of the late '50s that came about because of cheap and readily available labor. Those jobs, however, are now outsourced.

"The report clearly says that the jobs of the future will not only require a trained labor force, but an educated one as well," Parker said. "Workers will have to be thinkers and problem solvers. Creative thinking and reasoning skills will be at a premium — not only for people who can do math, but also (those who can) work together to find solutions. No more working alone in silos."

So where does ATC figure into this future mix? Parker says because of the MCA and the nearby Marine Corps Logistics Base, the college is well-positioned to make a strong move into precision manufacturing.

"We have the programs, we have the faculty expertise and we've got the students who show interest in that," Parker said. "We have met with retired (Marine) Col. Patricia Ross, who is with the Technical College System of Georgia. She is our military affairs liason, and one of her major functions is to work with retired military who might want to come to Albany Tech so we can evaluate the skill sets they have so they don't have to repeat any course work."

Parker said the needs at MCLB-Albany are constantly changing. Over the span of his 19 years at ATC, he has seen three major transitions at the facility.

"During the first third of my career here, there were no hot wars going on and they were simply maintaining equipment that was being used for training," he said. "In the second third, it was repairing badly damaged equipment so it could get back into the hands of Marines quickly. Now it's not only repairing, but also upgrading equipment with technology. What we have learned is that as the military takes equipment off line, they replace it with weapons systems that are more sophisticated.

"Right now they seem to be upgrading in anticipation for what might happen."

As things stand at the moment, Deal, the presidents of Albany's three institutions of higher education, and the U.S. military are all riding in the same boat, and its name is "anticipation."

See original news story @ ALBANY HERALD