Cherokee Office of Economic Development · Cherokee by Choice.

Bridging the skills gap-State implements programs to get workers ready for high-demand jobs

October 20, 2015

Nine million people are actively seeking employment and 5 million jobs are going unfilled annually. Baby boomers are retiring, and the list of job openings without enough skilled applicants to take them is long: it includes skilled tradesmen; welders and machinists and other skilled manufacturing jobs; in health care, physician assistants, physical therapists, many other job titles; computer software developers, and data administrators. The staffing industry is partnering with Georgia’s technical colleges to create the new workforce: get millennials interested in these jobs and qualified to do them.

Rebecca Rogers Tijerino, CEO of the Atlanta-based The Intersect Group, said the skills gap concern is both real and growing.

“The national narrative around ‘skills gaps’ often centers on technical and trade jobs, but we’re also seeing a tremendous impact at the professional level — particularly in the IT and finance and accounting sectors,” Tijerino said. “The impact is further amplified in Atlanta, where STEM-related jobs comprise a significant portion of the economy.”

For example, Tijerino says the shortage and high demand for software developers has prompted a national charge to encourage women and other underrepresented groups to pursue STEM-related fields and learn skills such as coding and programming. “The demand for software and analytical skills is also much broader than we often realize, as organizations across all industries are competing for the same talent, from hospitals and government agencies, to financial institutions and other professional services firms.”

In finance and accounting, Tijerino said she sees significant gaps between the qualifications that organizations are looking for and those that candidates possess. “Traditionally, commercial companies recruited candidates from public accounting firms whose college recruiting programs trained, developed and prepared accountants and analysts,” shesaid. “Candidates left public accounting for an improved work life balance and less travel. Now those public accounting firms have adopted improved employee retention strategies and are offering work from home, part-time and reduced work hours. As a result, the attrition from those firms has reduced and the availability of candidates with 3 to 5 years of accounting experience has diminished. A smaller talent pool creates increased time to fill these positions, as well as reduced productivity and work quality when the right hire is not available.”

Tijerino said one solution is to create more partnerships between employers and educators, to help cultivate the right skills early on and proactively create talent pipelines.

“Employers in general also need to be more aggressive in retaining and developing their talent, providing employees with tangible career paths and the skills required for mobility,” she said. “This includes supporting a culture of continuous learning where employees are encouraged to develop new skills to meet the changing demands of the workplace.”

While the skills gap isn’t going away anytime soon, Tijerino said today’s staffing firms are in a unique position to make a valuable impact.

“At The Intersect Group, we partner with clients to educate them about today’s labor market and help them implement proactive workforce planning, speed up and make smarter hiring decisions, improve their hiring process, source and select the right candidate for their environment and add incentives to entice top talent,” she noted.

Tijerino added her company likes to also support programs like MentorNet, and organizations such as the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) and the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association, which promote the education and retention of individuals in STEM work and offer scholarship opportunities for those interested in these fields.

“Investing in continuous learning and empowering candidates for success is essential for driving innovation and navigating the challenges of today’s labor market,” she said.

Gretchen Corbin, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), said Georgia, like the rest of the nation, is experiencing a skills gap.

“Within five years, more than 60 percent of Georgia jobs will require a college certificate or degree, but currently only 42 percent of the state’s young adults have them,” Corbin said. “Under Gov. [Nathan] Deal’s leadership, however, the state is taking a multi-faceted approach, partnering state agencies as well as private organizations and companies to find solutions that ensure a workforce pipeline for Georgia companies.”

Corbin said “Complete College Georgia,” for instance, was launched in 2011 to ease the path for Georgia adults to return to school and finish their degrees.

“Gov. Deal has charged the Technical College System of Georgia and University System of Georgia (USG) to graduate an additional 250,000 students by 2020,” Corbin said. “With an average graduation rate of 31,000 students each year, TCSG is more than 10,000 students ahead of its benchmark. In addition, the state is in the second year of a marketing campaign called “Go Back. Move Ahead.” to encourage Georgians to finish college so they have better access to the many jobs available.”

Last year, Deal launched the High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI) to further address Georgia’s workforce pipeline, Corbin added.

“As a system capable of adjusting to the needs of business, TCSG has instituted at least 427 programs to fulfill the workforce needs of the 15 strategic industries identified by the HDCI,” she said. “Free tuition for students enrolled in some of these high-demand areas is also helping solve Georgia’s skills gap. Through the Strategic Industry Workforce Development Grant program, which supplements HOPE grants, Georgia students can now receive free tuition for 10 industries with more openings than qualified applicants: certified engineer assistant, commercial truck driving, computer technology, diesel equipment technology, early childhood care and education, health science, movie production/set design, practical nursing, precision manufacturing, welding and joining technology.”

Click here to view the original article from the Atlanta Business Chronicle.