By Guest Columnist CHRIS CARR, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development
In business, the only way to stay successful is to meet the needs of your customers, and the best way to meet your customers’ needs is to do a very simple thing – ask them.
Under Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia’s economic development efforts have been repeatedly guided by this sound and successful principle. When he first came to office, Gov. Deal created the Competitiveness Initiative to ask the private sector what Georgia needs to do to create a more positive business environment.
From that feedback, the governor and General Assembly have put forth policies that have contributed to Georgia being named the number one state in the nation four times in the past 13 months.
Most recently, the economic development community in Georgia – including the governor and his staff – continued to hear from companies, whether based in Georgia or located elsewhere, about one specific need.
In order to be successful, these companies said, business must have an established and sustained pipeline of trained workers. To be clear, this is not a situation unique to Georgia. It is one that every state must grapple with.
The difference between Georgia and other states is that Gov. Deal decided that we needed to step up and meet this challenge head on. So last January, he established the High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI), which tasked the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the University System of Georgia (USG) and the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to go to the private sector and ask them to look five to 10 years down the road and tell us what skills, jobs, degrees, certificates or programs they will need to be successful.
The purpose of this forward-looking initiative was to be proactive and identify the needs of the future now – not to get to the future and wish we had been proactive.
This on-going initiative would achieve two goals – learning in real time from the private sector about what needs they will have and also allow the state to share with these companies what assets we already have at our institutions of higher education. That way, where pressing needs exist today, we can go ahead and partner with the company to address them.
We hosted 13 meetings around the state listening to more than 80 companies and organizations, in industries as wide ranging as healthcare, entertainment, aerospace, agriculture, military, and automotive manufacturing just to name a few. We learned a great deal, but most importantly, we have shown the full commitment of our state to have a world-class workforce of the future.
We established relationships, laid the foundation for an infrastructure of communication with the private sector, and most importantly, have begun to provide tangible results. In just 8 months, the state has already taken several steps, including:
- Deal announced a proposal to expand the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant (SIWDG) to include students enrolled in the following programs at TCSG institutions: film set design, computer programming, precision manufacturing, and certified engineering assistant. The current SIWDG provides HOPE Grant recipients with additional funding in targeted programs. Governor Deal has made the addition of the proposed programs for SIWDG eligibility a budgetary priority and will work with the General Assembly to enact this expansion.
- Many of the HDCI participants identified a need for more employees with skills in computer programming and software development. Governor Deal proposed that the State Board of Education amend state policy to allow computer programming courses to satisfy core requirements in the areas of math, science, and foreign language for high school students. Additionally, Governor Deal is asking the Board of Regents of the University System to accept these computer programming courses for admission into USG institutions.
- USG is creating a Cyber Security Initiative that will focus all of the cyber education and training resources across the USG in order to meet the needs of the United States Army Cyber Command, the National Security Agency, the financial transaction processing industry, and the health informatics/electronic medical records industry. The initiative aims to create a cyber-security workforce of sufficient scale, quality, and capability to meet the needs of Georgia companies, military installations, government agencies, and other institutions.
The HDCI is unique to Georgia and is a complete commitment to utilizing the entire workforce development assets and resources of our state to ensure that Georgia business has what it needs to be successful for many years to come.
At the same time we will make certain that the people of Georgia are provided every opportunity to be trained for those critical positions as well. Although the report the governor has released is a snapshot of what we learned, the initiative will be ongoing and long-term.
Our department, the University System and the Technical Colleges all have committed staff and resources to support this effort. Going forward, we will be working with companies to make sure that their needs are being met, and where they are not, we will quickly work to meet those needs.
The feedback that the state is already getting from the private sector is that once again, Georgia is doing what it takes to remain the number one state in the nation to do business. We are being proactive and innovative, and that will only serve to benefit Georgia business and the almost 10 million Georgians who live here.