In last week’s column I wrote about a new factory coming to north Georgia that will make shoes for Adidas. The facility is unique because it is being billed as a Speedfactory — relying significantly on technology to mass produce products — with many of the employees needing technical skills in order to work their factory jobs.
The rise of automation to increase productivity has presented a challenge for America’s middle class. It is just one component of the mismatch between the skills prospective employees have and employers need. Figuring out how to close this gap is a focus of policy makers from government, business, and the education community alike.
Last week the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce released the findings from a year-long effort to quantify the skills gap in Georgia. The Chamber partnered with Accenture to identify what skills our education system is producing and compared those to those that local employers are demanding.
Understanding the disconnect can help better align the significant resources spent developing skills, as more than half of Georgia’s state budget is devoted to education. It can also be used to guide students from high school through higher education toward degrees and programs that are in demand.
The MAC study tried to identify and quantify our skills gap and our talent gap. The former represents the core professional skills needed by employers but lacking in the current employment pool. The latter is the shortfall in degrees and certifications conferred as compared to the number of entry level positions available.
Demand from employers exceeds the qualified talent pool in areas of business, computer/information sciences, and engineering at the four-year degree level. The number of healthcare professionals with a two-year degree is far below employers’ demand in the healthcare field. Logistics/transportation jobs continue to exceed the number of qualified applicants from the field of employees with high school diplomas and/or training certificates.
Conversely, the number of two-year liberal arts degrees conferred outstrips the number of jobs available from Georgia employers by more than a 9-to-1 ratio. While many skills taught by two-year liberal arts programs are needed/desired by most employers (specifically, there’s a gap with those possessing communications skills), the implication is that someone with an associate liberal arts degree will need additional education or skill development to find greater success in the jobs market. Even with a four-year liberal arts degree, many fields such as psychology and social sciences continue to produce significantly more graduates than there is demand for these services.
Georgia’s skills gap shows that employers have the greatest difficulty finding employees with business, technology, and nursing degrees. Information technology jobs are in demand not only from those with four year degrees, but a significant number of high wage jobs in the field involve programming and coding which can be filled with technical degrees. IT occupations represent roughly one-third of job postings in Georgia.
Georgia remains the fourth fastest-growing state in the union and is also fourth in job growth nationally. Yet Georgia’s unemployment rate is 33rd in the nation. When a local employer can’t find the talent needed locally, it has two choices: it can train new talent, which takes time and money. Or it can hire non-local talent and relocate them.
Georgia makes an incredible investment in our education system from our public elementary and secondary schools, Technical College System, and University System. We already incentivize students to pursue careers in high demand fields in the technical college system. The same should be considered throughout the University System — perhaps by re-aligning the payout from the HOPE scholarship to prioritize fields of greater demand.
The ultimate solution to closing these gaps will lie in parents and students working to inform themselves of what options are available and charting a course – beginning in high school — that will put each student on a path to personal success. This will likely require changing the perception of some jobs and career paths, as well as families being able to find and understand this kind of information earlier.
Georgia’s employers are hiring. We need to ensure that we’re preparing graduates with the skills that they need.
Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to state & local politics of Georgia.