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Schools, manufacturing industry want to entice more young workers
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Local manufacturers, business leaders and school officials gathered Wednesday at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood for a forum to address how skilled, educated and motivated workers can be developed, recruited and funneled into burgeoning career paths.

“It’s a real shame that we have some people spending some lost years” trying to figure out what to do with their life, said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Evans echoed similar sentiments expressed by other attendees, many of whom talked about how high school students are ill-informed about the choices and opportunities that await them.

Seeking a liberal arts degree is the obvious career path, but technical college and workforce training programs can offer a way forward for those less inclined to sit in a classroom and take notes, attendees said.

“They’re leapfrogging our local industry,” said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 about 48 percent of college graduates reported working in fields that did not require a bachelor’s degree.

Schofield said he believes many of these graduates might have been better off pursuing careers as welders, mechanics or in other manufacturing jobs. And he said he hopes local schools can redefine success for high school students by providing them with a broader curriculum that incorporates job training in fields like manufacturing.

Hall County is home to more than 320 manufacturers, and Lanier Technical College houses a Manufacturing Development Center to provide training in a number of related fields.

Lanier Tech works with local manufacturers to customize training programs for new and existing workers.

For example, the college recently began working with King’s Hawaiian, known for its dinner rolls, to provide prescreening programs for potential workers, as well as leadership training programs for management.

But attendees agreed more needed to be done to ensure the local workforce for this industry remains robust and qualified.

For example, businesses need to be more hospitable in their hiring practices, reaching out to schools to attract qualified candidates, and perhaps even hosting open house events to showcase available jobs. Changing the perception of what working a manufacturing job is like, or how much it pays, is critical in this endeavor, attendees said.

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said it’s also paramount that the local public education system adapt to changing workforce needs and cultural dynamics.

Connecting students with job training programs earlier in their educational life, developing programming to educate parents about the career choices available to their children and expanding curriculum are a few of the ways that schools can help facilitate recruitment.

Additionally, conducting tests that gauge a student’s interest in and knowledge of particular fields is critical throughout their educational lives, attendees said.

But these things are easier said than done.

Dyer acknowledged school officials and business leaders need to show the value in what they are advocating, as well as provide options.

Moreover, attendees agreed more can be done to teach students critical thinking skills, tools that can go a long way in siphoning the best from the best.

“You need people who can think through issues,” said Joe Leonardo, director of manufacturing for King’s Hawaiian.