Everyone experiences “red-letter days” in their lives, those significant moments that have significant importance and lasting impact – births, deaths, weddings, adoptions, promotions, retirements, etc.
Communities, too, experience events of such lasting importance as to be worthy of marking in red ink on a perpetual calendar. One such moment occurred for Gainesville and Hall County Oct. 19, when Gov. Nathan Deal wielded symbolic, oversized scissors to cut the ribbon on the new Lanier Technical College campus.
With much pomp and circumstance and a sizeable crowd as witness, Deal’s symbolic gesture heralded not just the opening of a replacement campus for a college that had long outgrown its decades-old home, but the dawning of a new day for technical colleges in Georgia, with a college specifically designed from the ground up to meet post-secondary vocational education needs for decades into the future.
To paraphrase an overused line from an old car commercial, this is not your granddad’s vo-tech school.
While the moving-in process still has to be completed before classes can begin in January, the rebirth of Lanier Technical College speaks volumes about the future of post-secondary education in the state.
For too many years, the mantra for students leaving high school was that they had to go to a traditional college to be prepared for the future — this despite considerable evidence that many students did not fare well in such colleges, and that the nation’s economy needed work skills that were never going to be taught in the hallowed halls of ivy-clad academia.
Increasingly, the pendulum is swinging toward the need to prepare students for the future by matching aptitudes with academic paths — getting those students best suited for a traditional college degree on the road to Biology 101, and those more interested in gaining a different kind of education into schools like Lanier Tech, where training for the future means developing skill sets tied more directly to the promise of a paycheck.
Not that Lanier Tech is an option only for those who just graduated from high school. Many of those taking advantage of today’s modern technical schools are adults with families whose high school yearbooks have been gathering dust for many years.
Across Georgia, and throughout the nation, there are communities tired of sending students away and that long for any sort of post-secondary option close to home. We are blessed with three distinctly different options in Hall County, with Lanier Tech, the University of North Georgia and Brenau all serving different segments of the post-secondary student population.
But the new Lanier Tech campus is intriguing because it is designed specifically to allow flexibility in meeting training needs for an ever-changing job market, which is critical to maintaining the strong business economy the area now enjoys.
It isn’t just happenstance that the area’s unemployment rate is consistently among the lowest in the state (and now unbelievably below 3 percent), or that job growth continues at a staggering pace, or that foreign companies have chosen to locate here, largely because of the available workforce. That sort of economic reality requires a lot of different sectors working together, including government entities, the Chamber of Commerce, and local and state economic development initiatives. The existence of Lanier Tech is a major element in the recipe for sustained, quality economic growth.
It does not require a crystal ball, however, to see how rapidly the workplace is changing and how much demand there is for new skill sets. The labor force of 20 years ago is poorly prepared for the workplace of the future.
“We understand the immense importance of Georgia offering a well-trained workforce to meet the employer demands of today and tomorrow, and the Hall campus of Lanier Technical College will prove to be an historic investment in technical education,” said Deal at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
It was appropriate that the school be completed before the governor ends his final term of office at year’s end. Not only has he been an avid proponent of the new school, but the emphasis on training a workforce for the future is vital to sustaining the strong record of business growth that has been a hallmark of Deal’s tenure as governor, a time that has seen the state repeatedly recognized as the best place to do business in the nation.
While the formal ribbon cutting was a celebration of the reality of a new campus ready for use now, the mindset for the day was preparation for the future.
“This campus was built not only for the students of 2018, but for those who choose technical education in 2078,” said Dr. Ray Perrin, president of Lanier Tech.
Perhaps the overriding beauty of the new campus, beyond its ability to handle the needs of more students from throughout the region, is that it can and will serve as a template for the construction of new technical schools throughout Georgia. As increasing emphasis is placed on workforce training and job appropriate skills, the need for such colleges is going to be increasingly evident.
With the new Lanier Technical College campus, our community is, once again, positioned to be at the forefront of a wave of positive educational and economic change as it sweeps through Georgia in the years to come. Red-letter days indeed.