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Georgia aims to work smart to connect employers with skilled workers
Governor announces initiative at Kings Hawaiian in Flowery Branch
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Gov. Nathan Deal visits King's Hawaiian Monday morning to announce the launch of Georgia WorkSmart, a work-based learning initiative. The program is designed to help fill jobs by using apprenticeships, internships and public-private partners.

The saying “work smart, not hard” has long been sage advice for the up-and-comer learning the tools of his or her trade.

But why not work smart and hard?

Now, 13 industries and 30 businesses across the state seek to bring these two attributes together with the launch of Georgia WorkSmart, a work-based learning initiative.

“This program will help lead the way in establishing effective partnerships between businesses and educators to better prepare jobseekers for employment opportunities throughout the state,” Gov. Nathan Deal said at the program’s launch Monday at the King’s Hawaiian facility in Flowery Branch. “This collaboration between the public and private sectors will continue making our state more attractive for businesses.”

The program — which follows on the heels of similar initiatives like the Go Build Georgia campaign and High Demand Career Initiative — aims to fill job needs and workforce demands for local businesses through customized apprenticeships, internships and public-private partnerships.

Establishing and nourishing a pipeline between schools and businesses will be critical to the success of Georgia WorkSmart, state officials said.

“Our goal is to supply employers with a workforce trained for today’s business climate,” Technical College System of Georgia Commissioner Gretchen Corbin said. “We look forward to working with companies to create detailed, customized curricula that focus on the specific skills that will allow the trainee to succeed in that work environment.”

The launch of the program corresponds with a nearly $3 million grant awarded to the state economic development arm from the U.S. Department of Labor. That funding will help create apprenticeship programs related to advanced manufacturing in the state.

Lanier Technical College President Ray Perren said the WorkSmart program will help the school expand its enrollment, improve its certification courses and build upon its mission to be a conduit for local economic development.

“We see this as another tool” to strengthen those ties with private industry, he added. “And it’s not just for the jobs of today.”

Today’s manufacturing base, which is strong across Hall County, needs some assistance. 

One-third of all manufacturing jobs were shed between 2000 and 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The industry now employs about 12 million people, or about 10 percent of the nation’s workforce.

And about one-quarter of all workers in Hall County are employed in some kind of goods-producing job, according to the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Joe Leonardo, King’s Hawaiian director of manufacturing, said his company is committed to hiring 25 apprenticeship graduates, with certification approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Leonardo said that, in many ways, technological advances in manufacturing have increased the need for higher-skilled laborers.

“Automation looks like it would be a no-brainer in some situations,” he said, but that’s not always the case.

A maintenance training program already operating at Lanier Tech acts as a natural feeder for a company like King’s Hawaiian.

However, the apprenticeships, which are designed to meet both worker interests and business needs, can expand the role of operators and skilled manufacturers at the famous dinner roll maker, Leonardo said.

Shelley Davis, vice president of existing industry at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, knows just how important it is to remove barriers between employers and a local pool of workers.

For example, about 800 high school students in Hall participate in work-based learning programs, but just 2 percent have jobs in manufacturing.

Davis hopes to grow enrollment in the local manufacturing sector among high school students by 2 percent over the next year or so.

“We’ve been working so hard here locally to make sure that our employers are in contact with our different school systems,” Davis said. “(WorkSmart) will add to that initiative.”

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