A student participating in “This Girl Can” program practices wiring a light switch as part of non-traditional occupational training. Photo courtesy Toombs County Family Connection.
Writer: Mallory Lawrence
Experts at the University of Georgia’s Vinson Institute of Government have partnered with Georgia Power to provide communities across the state with a comprehensive and accessible resource to address the growth opportunities provided by new industries. In fiscal year 2023, Georgia’s economy grew at record levels for the third year in a row. The state gained 38,400 jobs and more than $24 billion in investment in FY23, with annual investment totals increasing by 131 percent in the past three years, according to state data.
With new industries flocking to Georgia in record numbers, communities need workforce and economic development resources now more than ever. The newly updated Workforce Planning Guide employs a data-driven process that is designed to be led by the community members and focused on finding attainable solutions.
“For communities seeking ways to address workforce demands, we hope this guide just might be the ‘secret sauce’ that allows them to identify existing opportunities and plan for future growth,” said Greg Wilson, institute faculty and workforce expert.
Wilson and others from the UGA Institute of Government worked closely with Joseph Lillyblad, education and workforce development director at Georgia Power, to design a guide that would bring together community leaders and major employers. Georgia Power also sponsored the guide’s development.
For communities all over Georgia, the Workforce Planning Guide offers a roadmap for those charged with reinvigorating their local economies.
“Georgia had a banner year in economic development,” Lillyblad said. “Today, it isn’t just about selling Georgia. It’s about looking at things holistically and knowing what’s happening on the ground.”
Work in Vidalia-Toombs County shows the impact the guide can have in communities.
In 2021, while trying to recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from Vidalia-Toombs County began working with the UGA Institute of Government on workforce development issues. With the updated guide in development, Vidalia-Toombs County tested its content and planning process.
Michelle Johnson, president of the Greater Vidalia™ Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Toombs County Development Authority, explained it was the right time because after the challenges of the pandemic, industries were calling, and the guide provided a tool to get the buy-in and get everyone to the table and talking.
“Folks are just so busy working in their business and industry. The biggest hurdle is making sure everyone is aware of the resources available. Just having everyone together in the same room and talking was incredible, and the team from UGA was a big part of that,” Johnson said.
Following the steps outlined in the guide, Vidalia officials created a 27-person steering committee composed of K-12 educators, city officials, employers and technical institutions. The committee took on four workforce development projects during the process—a job fair, a summer teacher program and two projects that focused on career awareness for middle-school students.
In collaboration with the K-12 Family Connections and after-school programs, and with support from Trane and Georgia Power, the committee launched “This Girl Can,” a program designed to introduce 7th- and 8th-grade girls to non-traditional career fields such as automotive, electrical, HVAC and welding. The committee was able to identify community support, secure more funding and grow the program. Now, 7th- and 8th-grade boys are learning about varying career fields like dental hygiene, cosmetology and nursing through another version of the program, “This Guy Can.”
Students in Vidalia-Toombs County participate in a dental assistant training exercise as part of “This Guy Can,” an off-shoot of the “This Girl Can” program. Both programs grew out of work officials from Vidalia-Toombs County did in partnership with the UGA Institute of Government leveraging the updated Georgia Workforce Planning Guide. Photo courtesy Toombs County Family Connection.
Paige Williamson, director of the Toombs County Family Connection, said the connections she made as a member of the steering committee made funding easier to obtain.
“We had amazing community support,” she said.
As did the one other project, a regional job fair hosted by Southeastern Technical College. The fair drew more than 70 local employers and approximately 300 job-seekers.
The steering committee’s final project, a Teacher Externship Program, launched this summer.
While the UGA Workforce Planning Guide proved valuable for Vidalia-Toombs County, the assistance provided by UGA Institute of Government faculty and staff added support to the process.
“We’re from a small town and think we know what everyone does, but that’s not always true,” added Barry Dotson, vice president of student affairs at Southeastern Technical College. “The importance of getting everyone in the same room can’t be overstated, and the Institute of Government helped us do that.”
For more information and to download a copy of the guide, click here.
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government empowers citizens and governments by providing innovative resources and tools that build stronger communities, inspire economic success, and improve quality of life throughout the state of Georgia and beyond.