Workforce development is one of the key “buzz phrases” in the economic development industry today. Rome Floyd Chamber President Jeanne Krueger said workforce development is right at the top of the list of priorities for the Chamber.
The combination of a Baby Boomer generation easing into retirement coupled with the increasing dependence of rapidly changing technologies has put pressure on the education system like it has not seen before.
Floyd County Superintendent Jeff Wilson and Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars believe their systems, students and teachers alike, are up to the challenge.
“We’re really competitive when it comes to being able to provide a skilled workforce, and that is critical to the success of our manufacturers,” Krueger said.
Both Wilson and Byars spoke to community leaders during a breakfast hosted by the Rome Floyd Chamber at the Coosa Country Club Wednesday.
“Education at the high school, at the college, at the tech level is the economic driver of any community,” Wilson said. “If we don’t do a good job providing folks who can go out into the business world and be successful, none of the rest of this is going to matter a whole lot.”
Wilson said the dual enrollment is the future of education at the high school level.
“We currently have 414 kids enrolled in 1,600 classes,” Wilson said. “Going into that freshman year and taking 18-20 hours, that’s pretty tough. These kids can choose to go and not have quite that heavy a load.”
Wilson also said dual enrollment is a really big deal for first generation college attendees, students whose parents did not go to college.
“You get them into a college class and they find they can be successful, given support at the high school level, helping them learn to study.”
That also saves their parents a lot of money.
Wilson also told the Rome community leaders that new alternative assessment tests are being developed to help educators get a better handle on how local students are doing not just against their peers in Georgia and the U.S., but all around the world.
“You know getting into college at Georgia Tech or Georgia you’re competing against international students all the time,” Wilson said. During a recent meeting, Wilson said he was told that in the engineering program Georgia Tech now accepts more out-of-country students than in-country students.
“I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but both China and India have more honor students than we have students,” Wilson said. “That competition is really stiff.”
Rome Superintendent Lou Byars spoke at great lengths about efforts to create a new college and career wing at Rome High School.
“In our new college and career academy, we’ll have 21 different labs,” Byars said. “Some are moving from the school building to the new construction, but the cosmetology and construction labs will stay.”
The new city CCA will offer programs from veterinary services to culinary arts, advanced manufacturing, automotive and cyber security.
Rome’s new CCA building will encompass 87,440 square feet of academic space and another 9,650 square feet of unused, but finished, space giving the facility space to grow and add specific programs to meet the needs of local business and industry.
“What’s here today, who knows what’s going to be here in ten years,” Byars said. “We want to be able to adapt and adjust.”
The city superintendent also said three of the six city elementary schools are STEM certified, and the system is expanding programs in the middle school with health care, construction, marketing and agriculture.
Chamber chief Krueger said the college and career academies, coupled with programs at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, are able to move young people into the workforce with very little lag time.
“That’s vitally important to the success of workforce development,” Krueger said. “When I have met with prospects in the past they have been so impressed with our college and career academy and how far ahead they are. When the Georgia Tech faculty visited they were so impressed.”
Eric Waters, CEO at the Floyd County College and Career Academy, said his board of directors is constantly evaluating the pathways at the academy to make sure they are keeping up with local needs.
“We meet with the chamber of commerce multiple times each year to gain their data and input to make sure our pathways align with local demand,” Waters said.
Recently, the academy asked Georgia Power to review their engineering curriculum.
“Oglethorpe Power has worked with us, (as well as) F&P Georgia, just to name a few others,” Waters said. “They actually sent someone in to look at the curriculum and we make adjustments as needed.”
Waters used the animation and digital media program as an example of how changes have been made in response to a changing workplace.
“That used to be called graphic design, but due to tax incentives in the state of Georgia there are more jobs in the television and movie industry, so that’s why we changed, because of the jobs,” Waters said.
It’s that kind of response to shifting needs in the workplace that local leaders hope will convince new industries they can find qualified workers in Rome and Floyd County and bring new jobs to the community.