The Gordon County Chamber of Commerce hosted a State of Industry Workforce Summit Thursday at the Calhoun Performing Arts Center, 520 Oothcalooga St., drawing business, education and healthcare leaders from across the area.

A five expert panel held a Q&A style round table discussion, facilitated by Advent Health’s Garrett Nudd, shared their perspectives on a variety of topics affecting the area’s industry. The main focus was on five business sectors: education, healthcare, industry, service and business.

Panelists included Calhoun Chick-fil-A’s Brooke Cudd, AdventHealth Gordon’s Mike Murrill, Daniela Perry from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Patrick Ledford from the Georgia Department of Education and Andrea Harper from the Georgia Association of Manufacturers.

A major reoccurring theme of the the summit’s discussion was workforce development, and more specifically how to target, attract and retain employees in today’s business climate.

“I think it’s just about evolving with time, and being flexible,” Cudd said, adding that it’s about remembering that each individual employee is important to the overall team. “You definitely have to be willing to work with all styles ... and be willing to change.”

Murrill addressed weathering the COVID storm from a healthcare perspective, and some of the unique challenges the industry has faced recently.

“I think at times you’ve got to get into your zone, and sometimes you’re forced to step back and say ‘who are my partners in the community who can do the things that I know I can’t do right now,’” Murrill said of adjusting during the pandemic. “It really forced us to pull together, get on calls, go and talk together and solve this together, and I really hope we can continue to do that because we’re so much better as a community when we do.”

Perry touched on some of the innovative methods local industry may have to begin implementing in order to attract workers.

“I think the real challenge is being willing to innovate, adapt, evolve and grow,” Perry said. “When you look at the data, I think it’s really clear that we just don’t have enough folks in the workplace right now that we need, so you have to think differently about how to get folks whether they’re refugees, whether they’ve been incarcerated, whether they have barriers in the way of getting to school, or first generation students trying to get to college. When you invest in people and they know they’ve been invested in ... they’re going to explode for you.”

Ledford reminded attendees that everyone plays a part in the area’s building of education and industry.

“There is no ‘I’ in workforce development,” Ledford said. “Either as an employer, in business and industry, in education ... we all play a role. Early and direct access to the workplace for future talent is needed now more than ever and partnerships and alignment is how we achieve that.”

Harper discussed the importance of making the next generation of workers and leaders aware of career path opportunities from an early age.

“There’s a stigma about manufacturing that is so wrong,” Harper said. “We need to open young people’s eyes to those careers, and that’s a discussion that has been going on for a long time. I think we really need to allow students to dream at the very earliest ages. If you put yourself in the position of a young student without parents at home who are going to make sure they know what opportunities are out there. I don’t know how we expect them to know what careers are out there. It’s important to have intentional discussions to align a students aptitude and interests with an educational pathway that leads to jobs that are out there.”

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