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Skilled workers lacking in Ga., survey says
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A survey released this week highlights what state officials have been saying for months: Georgia — and the rest of the country, really — needs more skilled laborers.

For the third year running, positions requiring skilled laborers topped ManpowerGroup’s list of the “hardest jobs to fill.”

The Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup, which bills itself as a workforce solutions company, says nearly half of the country’s employers are having trouble finding qualified employees for “mission critical” positions.

Among those are employers seeking to fill jobs in engineering and sales and those needing IT and maintenance staff.

Beth Herman, ManpowerGroup’s director for the greater Atlanta region, said the needs for employers here are not much different.

“When I got (the report) and I looked at it, I just kind of laughed to myself and thought ‘my God, we’re living this every day,’” Herman said.

Skilled trades, she said, are “booming,” especially in Hall, Gwinnett, Henry and parts of Fulton counties.

But “what we’re starting to bump into is a lack of workforce,” Herman said.

“Right now, we have an abundance of open jobs available, and many of them — not all — but many of them are in skilled trades,” Herman said. “That’s where the real pain points are for companies right now.”

ManpowerGroup’s report underlines rhetoric from the governor’s office that Georgia needs to focus more educational energy on skilled trades.

Earlier this year, Gov. Nathan Deal announced a new initiative to expand the number of skilled laborers.

Go Build Georgia largely is a public outreach program aimed at educating youth about the wage, lifestyle and employment benefits in the skilled labor trades.

The governor estimated in January that, over the next year, 16,500 jobs will become available in the industries that rely on skilled labor.

And this week, when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle spoke to the Kiwanis Club in Gainesville, he, too, stressed what he said was needed to change the mindset for post-secondary education in Georgia.

“I think education is the very driver that allows economic opportunity to exist, and I think we’ve missed the boat ...” Cagle said. “If we’re going to compete on a worldwide marketplace stage, then we’ve got to do a better job of making sure that we’re building the workforce that is critical for the future.”

He used an April announcement that Baxter International would employ some 1,500 people in a new biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility east of Atlanta as an example.

“To work in a pharmaceutical company in a manufacturing capacity, you’ve got to be a trained, skilled worker,” Cagle said. “And, you know what? We don’t have all those people right now.”

To fill the needs, Georgia Quick Start will build a biotech training center. The center will also create a curriculum for the Technical College System of Georgia that will help keep students trained in biomanufacturing operations, according to the governor’s office.

Herman, Cagle and Greater Hall Chamber Vice President for Economic Development Tim Evans all agree that the attitude for post-secondary education in Georgia will have to continue to change to meet the demands of the new economy.

With local companies, Evans sees a “more visible” demand for skilled workers and a diminishing supply despite the state’s unemployment rate.

“It’s really a false impression to think that ‘well, it must be easy to get people right now,’ because for some of the skilled positions, it’s very challenging to find those skills,” Evans said. “People that are turning up for job openings, they’re nice people, they have a lot of education, but they don’t necessarily have the skills that our companies are looking for. And that’s troubling.”

Local companies, Evans says, also have what seems to be an eternal shortage of maintenance technicians.

Mechanics and machine operators are also on ManpowerGroup’s list of difficult jobs to fill.

“I think, as a country, we have to do something to get kids excited about having a life with purpose and doing something that is of value. That may be a skilled trade or it could be a skilled service or profession that’s not necessarily found on the path to college ...” Evans said. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting a job and being productive and earning a living.”