Organizations lead efforts to put Troup County to work.

March 1, 2014

Unemployment is down and employment opportunities are on the rise.

Troup County alone has seen tremendous growth in both areas. Part of this is attributed to several organization across the county which aim to train better employees and create opportunities.

Chairperson of the Workforce Development Committee, Brandon Eley, said the Center for Strategic Planning identified several years ago that workforce development was a crucial area in the community that needed attention. Out of this came the Workforce Development Committee.

Looking to connect job seekers with local businesses, the committee’s first initiative was developing the Troup County Works website in 2009, specifically for Troup residents only.

The website currently has 217 employers and 5,330 job seekers registered.

“[Troup County Works] is and always will be a hub here that helps connects job seekers and employers,” Director of Workforce Development, Carrie Brkich, said.

Career Connect was also introduced a monthly seminar for job seekers and employers to come and provide networking opportunities.

Brkich said a significant benefit of this program is retaining people in Troup County. People are finding jobs in town which sustains the economy.

“There are people here that can work, they’re capable of doing work, what we’re doing is connecting them,” Eley said.

Gerald McKenna, a salesman at LaGrange Toyota, wouldn’t have found his job were it not for Career Connect and its networking opportunities. After looking for jobs on Troup County Works and other job websites, McKenna said his efforts were unfruitful until he attended Career Connect and got his resume in the right hands.

In a chance opportunity, he gave Brkich his resume and a few days later he was called by LaGrange Toyota who received a reference from Brkich.

“I lucked out honestly,” he said. “You just got to get there, its all about networking.”

After talking with local business and researching employment opportunities, Brkich said what they discovered was that there were a lot of jobs available but a lack of qualified employees. Brkich said all employers overwhelmingly gave the same reason for why they were not hiring Troup residents: lack of soft skills. Soft skills included attendance, speech, dress, preparation, teamwork, decision-making and communication skills.

In partnership with West Georgia Technical College and the Workforce Investment Board, the seven-week course, Troup Trained, was born out of this conflict with the vision of training job-seekers with the skills and behaviors needed to qualify for these jobs. WIA would provide the funding while WGTC built the curriculum based on what employers reported.

To be accepted into Troup Trained, students must be at least 18 with a high school diploma or GED. They also have to have barriers which keep them from getting a job such as long-term unemployment or lack of education. Potential students also must undergo a background check and drug-testing, and take a skills assessment.

“Its really a crash-course in preparing people to get back to work,” Brkich said.

In addition, Brkich said employers agreed to guarantee students at least a job interview after they complete the intensive training program.

So far the success of Troup Trained speaks for itself. Brkich said in the last class 100 percent of students accepted a job within three weeks of graduating.

Since the groups inception three years ago, Troup Trained has graduated 33 people. This spring’s class has already 26 people registered.

Eley said the vast majority of all graduates have found employment within weeks.

“Its been an overwhelmingly successful program because of the partnership with all of the employers,” Eley said. “They really recognize the value in this seven weeks of intensive [training].”

Teri Barnes was one of those students. Mother of eight, Barnes was unemployed for eight months before Troup Trained. Barnes found that her age, and not having a degree and or any manufacturing experience put her at a disadvantage in the workforce. She said she was ready to give up and take a job at McDonald’s the day she heard about Troup Trained through Career Connect.

After the seven-week program, Barnes accepted a job in audio support operations with Intercall.

Barnes said the program taught her communication skills, preparedness and most of all perseverance.

“Troup Trained really impacts the importance of you being an excellent employee,” Barnes said.

Human Resources Recruiter for Intercall, Connie McCollough, saw firsthand how students of Troup Trained were more qualified than other job-seekers as they “out-shined everybody” she said. Mccollough said they were all prepared and ready to work.

Intercall hired three students from the Troup Trained program and all three are thriving in their jobs according to McCollough.

McCollough said in her experience with hiring, she has found that the “millennium” group of job-seekers are highly technical but lack soft skills.

Because of this, Intercall has taken advantage of its partnership with Troup Trained to hire new employees.

“When the next class graduates, we want to be in line to interview them,” she said. “We were just real impressed with the end product.”

As employment continues to grow, Eley said the long-term goal is to prepare the youth of Troup County to enter the workforce. The committee holds a high school seminar annually between Troup, LaGrange and Callaway high schools to teach on resume skills, interview skills and soft skills.

The latest initiative for preparing high school students is the THINC career academy beginning in the fall.

The school will offer everything from health science to manufacturing, robotic, business classes and AP classes. High school juniors and seniors will be able to come to THINC for half of the day for classes while also having class at their high school.

“We want to help students get career ready,” THINC chairman John Aswell said.

Aswell said one of the ways to help students is to engage with local companies about what jobs are available and what skills are needed and develop curriculum and pathways to support those needs with hands-on and relevant training.

He summed up the goal of THINC as to train students with the skills and knowledge they need to enter the workforce prepared to serve in whatever environment they are in to the best of their ability.

In another effort to bring Troup people to work, Sherri Brown directs Circles of Troup, a local part of the national program Circles USA, which specifically serves those living in poverty with the goal of making them self-sufficient.

Brown said the misconception of those living in poverty is that they don’t want to work. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Brown identified those living in generational poverty who are hard-working and intelligent that need support finding a job.

“Sometimes its very articulate, attractive, intelligent people who never had a break,” she said.

The program began locally in November 2012. Circles of Troup holds is a 12-week classes that meets every Thursday evening and teaches basic skills, goal setting, long-term thinking while also educating on causes of poverty. After 12 weeks, participants have a following 18 months of working with a volunteer “ally” who is there to simply be a “friend”, Brown said.

Those in Circles have barriers which keep them from finding employment such as transportation, child-care, criminal histories, and lack of education and experience. Circles aims to find solutions to these problems in order to put people back to work.

Brown has started to make headway in campaigning for companies to drop the felony question from applications and wait until the face-to-face interview to address any felony issues. Brown said this will give those with felonies a chance to explain themselves before being automatically disqualified for a job.

Currently, all 17 people enrolled in Circles, except two, now have jobs.

The first applicant of the first class, Inetha Hatten entered Circles homeless, not even able to afford a single roll of tissue paper. She now has a full time job at New Ventures and serves on two community boards. Hatten said Circles helped empower her to find a job.

Brown told another story of a women who had the skills to gain a job, but could not get her application in the right hands. Circles helped her network with employers and she was able to demonstrate her skills and knowledge leading to her earning a job as a medical assistant.

As the nation slowly recovers its economy, community organizations in Troup County are doing what they can to prepare the current and next generation of job-seekers to create a hard-working and improved workforce.

Aswell credits the success of these programs on the community’s ability to come together with a consistent consensus.

“If you can gain consensus amongst a diversity of opinions and backgrounds, you can move a mountain,” he said. “Its a tremendous hallmark on this community.”