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Preparing for work: Business, schools focus on whats next for students
Tessa Cotton and Al Trembley, with WSI Rainmakers, talk about research projects she is helping with through the work-based learning program in Hall County schools.

Hall County schools and businesses want to connect students with employers. That mirrors state efforts, which have been recognized nationally.

In the past two years, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce has tried to be a “catalyst,” said Perry Barnett, chairman of the chamber’s task force on workforce development. The chamber matches employers with students from Gainesville and Hall County schools for internships, which expose them to “real-world learning,” Shelley Davis, vice president for existing industry at the chamber, said.

For three years, Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business by Area Development, a leading corporate site selection and relocation magazine.

The state got that top ranking, announced recently, for cooperative and responsive state government and workforce development programs.

“We kept hearing about the need for workforce and the need for an employable workforce and the need for a skilled workforce,” Davis said.

“You hear the same story enough times and you know you need to meet that need,” she added.

Local industry has “a lot of people ready to retire, but they have nobody to replace them,” Christy Carter, Work-Based Learning coordinator at Flowery Branch High School.

Barnett echoed that sentiment: “I think what the industry has seen is there aren’t any skill people coming behind the people they have.”

Barnett said the chamber started emphasizing workforce because that item “came back as No. 1,” in a survey of area industries.

Tim Evans, the chamber’s vice president for economic development, noted the task force has helped coordinate with the school districts and employers “helping make that connection to expand the program.”

He pointed out students doing internships at manufacturing companies, which has been the point of emphasis, has increased from two to more than 20 in the two years.

Programs to help students be more employable are expanding everywhere.

Gainesville and Hall County have increased enrollment in their Work-Based Learning programs.

Hall County’s program has grown to 560 students from 471 in the past five years, director Rhonda Samples said. The school district works with 370 businesses in the program, she added.

Employers with the most Work-Based Learning students from the Hall schools are Northeast Georgia Medical Center, with 29 students, and Kubota Manufacturing of America, with 15, Samples said.

Harrison Harper, a graduate of North Hall High School, is an employee at Shane’s Auto Body in Clermont after starting there as an unpaid intern during his senior year of high school. He completed the manufacturing pathway at North Hall.

Now, he plans to make it a career.

“You’re never doing the same thing twice,” Harper said. “You’re never sitting still. There’s always going to be wrecks.”

Tessa Cotton, a junior at West Hall High School, wants to be an FBI agent and has started working with Al Trembley at WSI Rainmakers, a research and branding company. She said she is working on a survey of students at West Hall for E’arrs, a jewelry accessory company.

Trembley said the work with Cotton is “fun.” He said they have looked at “deep analysis,” organization and understanding people.

The relationship is worthwhile for the student and business, he said. “It’s nice to have other perspectives,” he explained.

Helen Perry, who directs WBL at Gainesville High School, said the program has 90 students working at 52 workplaces.

Her students work in radio, blog about Hall County residents for a real estate firm, work in Superior Court and at Specialty Clinics of Gainesville and help with marketing for Carroll Daniel Construction and Metro Appraisals.

Alondra Santillan said she helps with research and creating maps at the appraisal company. She is in interested in business and social media, she said.

Charters Embry is at the clinic — she plans to be a physician’s assistant. She said that ambition has come into focus in the past year or so.

Nathan Hughes works with Judge Andrew Fuller in Superior Court. He is interested in being a prosecutor and lawyer. He said the courtroom work exposes him to all sides of the community — good and bad.

Gainesville High School has expanded its Move On When Ready program. The program more than doubled from 2015-16 to this year. The program now has 57 students, up from 26, Gainesville counselor Wendy Savitz said.

She explained three courses at Lanier Technical College were in “high demand at a time that was conducive to the kids’ schedule.” Those are certified nursing assistant, cosmetology and auto collision/repair.

The increased emphasis was driven by a state law that expanded the concept of dual enrollment. Now, “everything is covered,” she said. “There is absolutely no financial barriers for the students.”

The high school also has a grant to cover transportation costs, which she said was an issue for a number of students.

Of the students in the program, Savitz said, 74 percent of them are “first generation (college) students, and that is huge.”

The expansion of the program came largely from talking to students. She said she wanted to tell students “if you want to go to college, you can go to college.”

Gainesville is holding first college-level course this year — English 1101, taught by a Lanier Tech instructor. That class is Monday through Thursday at Gainesville, Savitz said.

Another college program, Early College @ Jones in the Hall County school system, has about 55 percent of its students who are first generation college attendees, according to Michele Hood, director of the program.

Early College is in its first year. Students may take from one to three courses at a time, Hood said. The program offers about 165 college credits, she said.

Evans said factors in new or expanded business recruitment always includes location, transportation and proximity to customers.

But, in the past two or three years, skilled labor “has moved up a lot,” he said.