WEST POINT — State government and business officials descended on the Kia Training Center in West Point on Wednesday for a discussion on investing in workforce development and education.
Manufacturers Siemens and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia hosted the event, focused on initiatives for education-based ways to bolster the future workforce and preparing more students for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly called STEM, fields.
Gov. Nathan Deal was a keynote speaker for the event, noting the efforts the state has taken in the last several years to better accommodate and attract businesses, but also touting the need to bolster the available workforce to meet the needs of new businesses.
“One of the things that we said we should do, and we have done now, is let’s look at within our job market, let’s look at the jobs that are available and currently not being able to be filled,” Deal said. “That is particularly important if you have a high unemployment rate. Why do you have high unemployment if you have jobs that are out there, available, but you just don’t have enough people with the skills to take those jobs?”
Deal said tooling education toward what state and local areas need for workforce helps ensure employing more people and having qualified employees for businesses. Deal said the state asked the technical colleges and higher education systems under the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia to look at their degree programs and graduate placements, and help focus more on programs where more graduates were gaining employment in their field.
“If you have a degree program where you’re producing great inhabitants of parents’ basements, but no jobs, you need to refocus how you use taxpayers’ money that is being devoted to degree programs that are not related to the job opportunities,” Deal said to laughter from attendees. “So (the college systems) have done that, and they are continuing to do that.”
He noted the state has expanded grants for students studying one of 12 areas the state deems critical to give the students full funding for their higher education. Those areas include engineering, computer technology, commercial truck driving, health science and industrial maintenance.
“We think that is going to speed up the process of giving businesses qualified workers and benefit our state as a result of that,” Deal said.
He added the state’s Move On When Ready, offering free dual enrollment for high school students taking college courses, and youth apprenticeship programs have made a big impact in getting students into a career field they care about. He also noted the state has made computer programming language count as a foreign language course in high schools.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “by 2020, 50 percent of the 9.2 American jobs in the STEM fields will be in computing and informational technology. So if we can get ahead of the curve, and I think this path gets us there, I think we’re going to be in very good shape.”
A panel followed, during which representatives from the state, education and businesses spoke about workforce concerns and needs.
Raj Batra, president of Siemens Digital Factory Division U.S., concluded the event by announcing Siemens will donate $100,000 for automotive equipment to THINC’s mechatronics lab and employees will instruct students on their use. The equipment is the same as what’s used by Kia and other global auto manufacturers, Batra said.
Matthew Strother is the editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, 2153.