Thurmond says we need to retrain workers for the new economy

Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond told Atlanta Kiwanis today that the United States is “witnessing a restructuring of the 20th Century economy” — a restructuring that has led to 12.6 million Americans and 416,000 Georgians becoming unemployed.

Thurmond calls this time “the Great Recession” and in his mind, this period provides an opportunity for American workers.

“We can rebuild, re-educate, retrain tens of thousands of Americans,” Thurmond said. “Many of the jobs that have been lost, even when the economy returns, will never come back to this country.”

That’s why Thurmond is such a believer in technical education and preparing a workforce for the jobs needed at this time.

Education is key, Thurmond said. He was born in the Augusta area as a son of sharecropper who couldn’t read or write. They didn’t even live in a house with running water until he was 16 years old.

So what made Thurmond, who holds statewide-elected office, different from his father? “That is the power of public education,” Thurmond said.

During the question-and-answer period, Thurmond celebrated the fact that Georgia received $99.8 million earlier in the day in federal stimulus funds for job training. Thurmond said the state is also qualified to receive another $221 million.

Thurmond also was asked about his views on illegal foreign workers in Georgia.

“Tens of thousands of illegals have left the state because the jobs aren’t here,” Thurmond said. “Illegals came here because we offered them work. They didn’t come here to go to Six Flags.”

Thurmond added that our neighbors, friends and businesses hired illegals, and in that way, they were “complicit.” The big question is that when the economy bounces back “will we repeat the same mistakes.”

After his talk, Thurmond received a rare standing ovation from the Kiwanis crowd.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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