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Tutors wanted: GEDs in demand
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Tammy Reed, right, joins Rev. Brenda G. Brown inside the Lanier Tech Adult Learning Center to study for an upcoming GED test they plan to pass.

A little bit of sweat and elbow grease once qualified as viable job skills in America. Now, knowing your ABCs and having a high school diploma are required just to get by.

With the state Department of Labor reporting a 6.2 percent unemployment rate statewide — the highest recorded since 1993 — more out-of-work Georgians are trying to pass the General Education Development test to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Mark Winters, manager of the state Department of Labor’s Gainesville Career Center, said there’s been a significant increase during the past year in the number of unemployed GED-seeking adults the center is pointing to local technical schools.

From July to September, Winters said the center directed approximately 50 people to Lanier Technical College or Gainesville State College to obtain their GED, compared to approximately 19 people during the same period last year. And the state department is turning even more unemployed locals toward technical degrees, with the department having helped approximately 516 people to start working on technical degrees since July, up from the roughly 280 people the Work Investment Act Program helped to start a technical education last year.

"Due to a sluggish economy, individuals are finding employers are requiring a GED to gain employment," Winters said.

The new GED program structure at Lanier Technical College’s Hall County Adult Learning Center, as well as rising unemployment, will likely draw about 1500 GED students this year — 600 more than last year, according to Lanier Tech educators.

Robert Bates, head GED instructor for the college’s adult learning center, said many people unemployed through no fault of their own come to the center by referral from the Department of Labor, which deems them unemployable at their present education level. The Department of Labor provides many with unemployment benefits as they work their way through 20 hours of class each week toward earning their GED.

Save for the $95 GED testing fee, the adult learning center’s GED program is free.

"A lot of people don’t have jobs or are in dead-end jobs, and they realize life’s not going to get any better for them until they get an education," Bates said. "They say, ‘I’ve been out trying to find work, and nobody will even talk to me because I don’t have a high school diploma.’ ... Our economy has shifted, and if you don’t have a GED, you can’t get a job."

Bates said many out-of-work people who show up at the adult learning center are functionally illiterate and were laid off from their jobs with textile companies. Others were laid off due to companies moving overseas. Some are high school dropouts who seek a GED in order to join the armed forces.

Laura Delarosa, 41, found herself jobless in April when the Mohawk Industries plant closed in Dahlonega. She lost her job making yarn along with all 365 of her co-workers. Mohawk Industries is one of the largest carpet makers in the world. The company has shuttered a number of North Georgia plants in the past year.

Instead of pounding the pavement looking for a job, Delarosa has spent the past three months studying math, science, social studies, language arts and reading.

"I’m trying to get a better job," she said. "That’s what I tell my children, ‘If they want good pay and to be the boss and have an office or something, they have to study and have a career.’"

According to a 2004 U.S. Census Bureau report, an individual with a high school diploma makes on average nearly $28,000 a year — about $9,000 more a year than someone without a high school diploma.

As the mother of sons who are 9, 14 and 16 years old, Delarosa said she also wants her GED to show her children that if she can succeed, they can too.

"Sometimes my children say, ‘Mama, why do you want me to go to school? You didn’t finish,’" she said. "I say, ‘Well, I haven’t finished school, but I’m trying to finish my GED.’ ... I feel better now. I used to be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ But now I have an answer."

Brenda Thomas, associate vice president of adult education for Lanier Technical College, said the adult learning center is in dire need of volunteers to tutor students who are learning to read or studying to earn their GED. Since the center is supported largely by federal and state funds, Thomas said the call for volunteers comes not out of a budgetary crisis, but as a need for people to work with students one-on-one.

"We can see our numbers are building," Thomas said. "We can tell we’re about to burst at the seams, so we’re trying to get volunteers to serve them better."

She said anyone able to put in a couple of hours of tutoring at the Hall County Adult Learning Center or at the Lanier Career Center will be augmenting the educational support the schools provide.

Lanier Technical College educators said anyone with patience and the ability to read, write and do even limited math will provide a great service to those struggling to make headway. Thomas said tutors are needed any time Monday through Thursday from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"Many of these people just need someone to sit down with them and help them learn how to read," Bates said.