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Georgia committee probes ways to expand state’s workforce

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(The Center Square) — Georgia has a 3.2% unemployment rate and roughly 5.1 million people in its workforce, but Peach State companies struggle to recruit employees.

And, a looming recession may only temporarily ease hiring troubles, testimony at the first meeting of the Senate Study Committee on Expanding Georgia’s Workforce revealed.

“We should be in a good position, but when you go to your communities, that’s not what we’re hearing,” Jamal Jessie, a workforce development manager for Georgia Power, told the committee. “We’re hearing that we’re having problems filling vacancies, we’re hearing that we’re having challenges [finding] people with skills and … although we have a strong workforce, there’s a lot of opportunities to improve it.”

Jessie pointed to record job creation and a skills mismatch as two factors contributing to the challenge.

Between 2017 and 2021, Georgia added more than 130,000 jobs. While the number of job openings fell in April 2020 to one opening for every four unemployed Georgians, by July 2022, there were roughly three openings for every unemployed person in the state, Hayley Williams, interim director of the Georgia Senate Research Office, told the committee.

“We are the number one place to do business for nine years; I know we’re all very proud of that,” state Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said during the hearing. “One problem with being number one is everyone wants to knock us off. So, we have to continue to stay ahead of that, and the workforce, obviously, is a key and critical … component to doing that.”

The Georgia Senate created the committee with the passage of Senate Resolution 275. The group will hold a series of meetings throughout the state and make recommendations for lawmakers to consider when they reconvene in January.

“We’re seeing that the signs of the current labor shortage are past us to the worst extent,” Steve Jones, director of HR planning for UPS, said, adding that a potential recession will only temporarily ease recruitment retention difficulties. Jones said he expects labor shortages to remain until at least 2030 and possibly 2040.

“…Wage growth is strong, particularly blue-collar wage growth is stronger than white-collar wage growth at this time, and we’re going to … continue to see that trend here in Georgia and elsewhere because we do not produce enough blue-collar workers in the United States,” Jones added. “Our education systems are designed to get everybody to be college-ready versus career-ready, and I would encourage the committee to look at career-ready employment as well as college-ready education systems.”

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