Atlanta’s jobs program should teach skills film industry needs to help locals get work, councilmember says

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s workforce training program should help residents learn the skills needed to get jobs in Atlanta’s film industry, an Atlanta councilmember with a unique perspective said Tuesday.

Atlanta City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd called on the city's workforce training program to teach skills needed in the city's film industry.

Atlanta City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd called on the city’s workforce training program to teach skills needed in the city’s film industry.

“The movie industry is hot in the city of Atlanta,” Atlanta Councilmember Joyce Sheperd said in a meeting of the council’s Community Development and Human Resources Committee.

Sheperd made her remarks following a presentation by Michael Sterling, who described the administrative changes he has made since taking the helm of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. Federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into the agency for activity that preceded Sterling’s arrival on May 7.

In his presentation, Sterling said he has shifted some personnel and said others are no longer with the agency. The agency now focuses on improving services to individuals who come seeking job aid. AWDA has eliminated monthly job fairs that resulted in few hires, because few employers attended. And he intends to ask leading businesses to hire AWDA trainees, which will bolster the program’s reputation.

The AWDA board does not have a chairperson and a third of the board positions are vacant, Sterling said. Mayor Kasim Reed is carefully vetting potential members, he said.

Sheperd has an influential role in the public policies that are promoting Atlanta’s film industry.

Michael Sterling, who heads the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, said his focus is to improve the agency's administration so that it can better serve residents.

Michael Sterling, who heads the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, said his focus is to improve the agency’s administration so that it can better serve residents.

Sheperd serves on the state authority that’s overseeing the planned sale of part of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry. Sheperd also represents the district where the EUE/Screen Gems Studio was built with help from Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm; Sheperd served on the Invest Atlanta board as the city council’s representative.

Sheperd has long maintained that few Atlanta residents are getting hired at the Screen Gems studio.

A few low-level jobs are available, along the line of janitorial services. But area residents are not getting hired for the better paying jobs that were described before the studio opened in 2010 and during its subsequent expansion.

Sheperd told Sterling that AWDA should consider devising a jobs training program around the specific work skills required to get one of the better paying jobs.

“That industry, the jobs there are interesting, they’re not your regular 9-to-5 jobs,” Sheperd said. “That’s an interesting industry.

“I’m not talking about actors, ‘I want to be a star,’” Sheperd said. “I’m talking about the lights, the grips, all of that. And we’re talking about training to make that happen.”

Sheperd has talked for years about the complexity of job creation in an urban setting.

For example, during the debate over allowing a potential Walmart to be built in Buckhead, Sheperd said she recognized that area residents didn’t want a big box retailer – and noted that those interests had to be balanced again the desire to allow a project that would create jobs in construction and future operations. The Walmart was not built.

Sheperd continued:

“I hope that within the next three months or so, the next time you come with a report on something we’ve done to make it happen. To develop a training program. I know that’s tough [but] we have to get them training. … It has to be a certain type of training. It’s almost that [you] have to create training around it.”

Gwinnett County created this type of workforce training in the 1990s.

Gwinnett Technical College was one of the county’s recruitment tools for companies looking at sites in metro Atlanta. Gwinnett Tech would agree to create training programs specifically designed to teach the skills the companies needed from their local workforce.

Sterling said he and his team are devising a “project dashboard” and he will keep the council informed as to its development.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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