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Group aims to link learning to jobs

Regional initiative creates partnerships in education, business

POSTED: October 19, 2013 11:22 p.m.

Workforce readiness. Access to education. Partnerships and collaborations within communities and the region.

Those were the three main ideas, or “game changers,” discussed this past week at the North Georgia Regional Economic and Educational Development summit.

Developed through the University of North Georgia, the initiative attempts to bring together key players in education and business.

“We have so very much going for us in this region (of the state),” said University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs at the Wednesday summit in Dahlonega. “I am absolutely certain at the end of the day that we’ll begin to gel with some ideas about how we create a mega-grant to be able to pilot some programs in this region, and actually to improve this college completion rate.”

While not a part of Complete College Georgia, it does lend itself to Gov. Nathan Deal’s initiative of increasing the rates of Georgia adults completing some form of postsecondary education. According to the Complete College Georgia website, it is projected that by 2020, more than 60 percent of Georgia jobs will require some type of certification or degree.

Currently, only 42 percent of Georgia adults are prepared to meet that demand. The idea behind REED is to aid in raising that percentage.

The task force toured the Northeast Georgia region over the summer, getting groups together in Gainesville, Blairsville and Watkinsville to get a picture of the area. Wednesday’s session was a way to bring everyone together to review those findings and determine ways to move forward.

They are looking for “game changers,” as Janet Marling, executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, put it. Marling has taken on a leadership role with REED.

“We really feel that by having these game changers, it’s really allowing us to do things in a way that’s really utilizing our resources wisely,” Marling said.. “(And) spending time in a way that’s producing outcomes that are useful to our citizenry.”

For the summit, the Hall County school system was called upon as an example, to share information about its work-based learning initiative and how the system is working with the GeorgiaBEST program through the Department of Labor to teach “soft skills” to students that help them enter the workplace.

Superintendent Will Schofield said he often speaks with area business leaders about the quality they most desire in new employees. Time and again, he said, they reply they need “innovators, entrepreneurs and creators.”

“What employers and what people who are in those agencies need today is somebody who can come into the business, come into the nonprofit, come into the governmental agency, take a look at what’s around them and make it more,” Schofield said.

To that end, the Hall system has developed a soft skills program for high school students going through the career, technical and agricultural education program in the schools.

It is ideas like that the REED initiative is interested in encouraging across the region. Also at Wednesday’s meeting were representatives from the Washington Wilkes Career Center and the Ty Cobb Regional Medical Center, each presenting their own game changing ways.

Moving on from this point, Marling said she sees REED being a resource for communities in the area, serving as a conduit for community entities to share ideas and promote their initiatives.

Jacobs, who served as an instigator behind the REED initiative, also spoke about the future plans.

“I think the fear that we all have is that we let this drop,” Jacobs said. “And we just absolutely can’t say, ‘Oh, we had great ideas! Wasn’t that a great presentation?’ And then we put it on the shelf.

“We have too many opportunities. We have too much braintrust in this room … you all are visionaries. You are the braintrust of this region. And I think we can do incredibly big things.”

Marling said more research will be coming forward as the months go on. She sees REED as a method for community agencies, educational entities and businesses to join together in collaborative efforts.

“I really want you to take away some of these pieces from what (the guest speakers) were saying (earlier),” Marling said. “No. 1, they were willing to suspend typical practices in order to ensure a win at the end. And so … there were some shifts, in looking at things a little bit differently. But the outcome was so well worth it.

“In all honesty, when we think about that next step, those next steps lie with each one of you. We are a catalyst to gather information. We are the conveners. We are the ones that are going to be turning this information back to you. But really and truly, the proof is in the pudding. You guys are already doing this. We just want to be able to help promote those things. So where this goes is really up to you.”


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