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Inside Bulloch Business with DeWayne Grice - Shifting education focus critical to our future
Grice-H-DeWayne Web
DeWayne Grice

            Next week hundreds of excited and well prepared high school seniors will graduate from Bulloch County schools and enter the next phase of their lives.
        Nothing is more critical to our community's future than the steps these young adults take and how we continue to focus on preparing and investing in the ones following them. Work force development is a buzz word that presents as many challenges as it does opportunities. Matching a local labor market and future demand of potential and existing industry is what the Harvard Graduate School of Education's project called "Pathway's to Prosperity" is hoping to achieve.
        Only two school systems in Georgia were selected by the Georgia Department of Education to work with the Pathway's program to develop a statewide model for workforce development, Carroll County and us - Bulloch County.
        Recently Daniel Jackson, president/CEO of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and its economic development arm, Carroll Tomorrow, presented to the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce Existing Industry Committee their community's past successes with workforce development and how their existing task force, Carroll Tomorrow, is working with Pathway's. He give an overview of the challenges:
• In a recent Talent Shortage Survey (Manpower group), 39 percent of US employers are experiencing difficulty filling open positions.
• The hardest jobs to fill are skilled trades
• 66.85 percent of 18-26 year olds have very little or no interest in a career in the skilled trades
• 44 percent of parents think (skilled trades) will have a negative impact on their child's financial goals.
• The Georgia Department of Labor says 69 percent of all first time hires lose their jobs because of lack of soft skills
• The unemployment rate is directly tied to education level
• General consensus is to meet the workforce needs in the US today, approximately 20-25 percent of the jobs require a bachelor's or higher degree, 65-70 percent require a technical degree and 10 percent semi-skilled or unskilled
        Jackson went on to explain the "disconnect" between job skill needs and the available work force. Many college students select a major without knowledge, thought or advice on career opportunities, compensation or requirements associated with that degree. The average student debt in the US is estimated at about $29,000. Parents, students and educators all need better information on career choices, pathways and employment opportunities so they can make better choices.
        Charles Wilson, superintendent of Schools for Bulloch County is a strong advocate for the Pathways to Prosperity program. He gave me another startling statistic, 90 percent of the prison population are high school drop outs.
        "We realized that there is a cultural shift," Wilson said. "(Traditional) college is simply not for everyone so we are working to put in place pathways that allow us to help students discover what they love and what they are good at then provide them the academic rigor to help them accomplish their goals. We have a dedicated team of leaders in place at every level and the best teachers in the country right here in Bulloch County. Our goal is to create the structure and flexibility to empower the teachers to help our students discover success at every level."
        Wilson and the Board of Education have set four areas where they are developing strategic plans to accomplish these goals. First, they partnered with the Georgia Leadership Institute of School Improvement, a non-profit organization funded by the Woodruff Foundation, to evaluate and create benchmarks for our community.
        Second, they are focused on implementing the Pathway's to Prosperity recommendations which include critical partnerships with other partners like the Chamber, local industries, Georgia Southern, Ogeechee Tech and East Georgia.         Third is the creation of dual enrollment opportunities. The mechatronics program we have reported on in the Herald is one example of an early success.
        Beginning the new school year, OTC faculty will provide courses onsite at Statesboro High School for students to earn a mechatronics certificate. Students who complete the program are trained to go right to work or apply the courses toward an associate's degree at Ogeechee Tech. Through agreements with GSU, this is also the first program that can apply a student's coursework in mechatronics from high school and OTC toward earning a bachelor's degree in engineering.
        Working with the Georgia Department of Education they are breaking down barriers and making the transition from high school to technical college and the universities more seamless.
        "Retooling a system as large as ours and as entrenched in so many areas as we are is not easy," Wilson said." Our teachers have so many demands on them already but their passion is preparing our students for the future. Because of this, they are embracing these difficult changes and we are slowly seeing the fruits of their dedication all across the system."
        To see this through is going to require stronger commitments from each of us, especially the business community. We have to step up in providing critical input and support where needed.
        Together we can see our community positioned as a leader in workforce development. This investment will give us the edge in economic development and recruitment of the types of industries that we so desperately need and desire.
        Wilson believes the timing is right, not only because of the incredible need and cultural shifts but because we have the leadership in place across the community from Dr. Brooks Keel, Dr. Dawn Cartee, Dr. Bob Bohmer, Mayor Jan Moore, Chairman Garrett Nevil and so many more who share this vision of doing whatever it takes to create opportunities to develop our students into the workforce of tomorrow.

        Please email DeWayne at dgrice@statesboroherald.com or give him a call at (912) 489-9499.

Business Ticker

• The Bulloch Telephone Cooperative Annual meeting of members is set for Friday at 3 p.m. at the Nesmith-Lane Building at GSU. There will be door prizes and a cash drawing for $500 and you must be present to win. All members who register and attend the meeting will be given a $10 credit on their July 2015 bill.
• W.A. Bragg & Company a leading distributor of residential and commercial plumbing, electrical and irrigation supplies, along with major appliances is undergoing a major renovation of their showroom. The new showroom will include a complete working kitchen, working showers and steam units so clients can get a better feel of how they function and will look in their home. They are located at 401 South Main and plan to have the renovations complete by late July. They will be operating normal business hours during the renovation.