The Georgia Department of Corrections struggles to fill some of its more than 11,000 employee positions statewide and also has an interest in preparing inmates to get and keep jobs in their communities after they are released.
So Georgia DOC Commissioner Gregory C. Dozier had both topics in mind when he came to the Workforce Readiness Conference hosted by the Statesboro-Area Society for Human Resource Management. With Labor Commissioner Mark Butler also on the program, Dozier was one of two state government department chiefs and one of three keynote speakers at SHRM's Sept. 22 event.
"We do struggle with keeping all of those positions filled," Dozier said in an interview. "Correctional officer is a difficult job and one that's not for everyone, so we have somewhere around 1,500 vacancies right now that we're very open to hiring."
The state penal system has a total of 89 facilities, he said, including 33 state prisons and four prisons owned by contracted private companies. Other facilities include detention centers, transitional centers for inmates nearing the end of longer sentences who work at outside jobs, and county-operated prisons.
Correctional officers were not included in this year's 20 percent pay increase for state law enforcement officers. That went to officers such as Georgia State Patrol troopers and Department of Natural Resources rangers.
But in 2016, when state lawmakers provided officers working the highways, woods and waterways a preliminary 6 percent raise, the Department of Corrections did get what Dozier called "a lump-sum change." Beginning correctional officer pay, previously about $24,000 a year, rose to $27,000, ranging up to $30,000 for some prisons.
"So that has helped, and we think it's going to make a difference," Dozier said.
Ex-offenders to work
The state's efforts to provide education and job training to the prison population, and how ex-offenders can then help employers meet their workforce needs, was a major topic of the conference. Statesboro-Area SHRM scheduled four other representatives of the Department of Corrections and two from the Department of Community Supervision for a panel discussion on prison re-entry, one of four panels during the conference.
"We talk about job-ready communities, and our goal is to have a job-ready offender coming back so they can re-enter and be productive citizens," Dozier said.
For several years beginning in the 1990s, the state government stripped away many of the vocational and education programs, Dozier acknowledged. But the trend has since been reversed.
"We've been blessed with a governor and a General Assembly and leaders who believe in making sure the public is safe and giving folks an opportunity who want that opportunity," he said. "So we last year actually had 2,731 GED graduates. That represented 23 percent of total GEDs in the entire state."
Those are General Educational Development diplomas for adults who have not previously graduated from high school. Last year, more than 6,000 state inmates also received certificates, including technical certifications such as in welding or Automotive Service Excellence certification for mechanics and on-the-job training certificates, Dozier said.
"So we are implementing those programs and we believe it's going to impact recidivism," he said. "We think it's going to break that cycle of folks coming back to see us over and over again."
Unable to attend the entire seven -hour conference, the reporter heard only Butler's concluding speech in its entirety. But Dozier and the other keynote speaker, Menelik Alleyne, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act services director for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, were interviewed during morning check-in.
WIOA programs, federally funded and prioritized to low-income adults and youth, can provide employers training for incoming workers and assist with hiring. Since July 1, the Department of Economic Development is co-locating its WorkSource Georgia sites with Department of Labor offices, Alleyne said.
"We can still have some affiliate sites," he said. "That means there may be some stand-alone offices, but the primary ones are going to be a unified office, and that means you can come there and get service from everyone, from our WIOA dollars as well as from the Department of Labor."
There are 19 WorkSource Georgia service areas in the state. Bulloch County is in the WorkSource Coastal area, with programs headquartered in Savannah. Some neighboring counties are in two different service areas.
The other panels discussed veterans' employment services, education and the needs of employers. The education panel included representatives of Georgia Southern University, Ogeechee Technical College, Southeastern Early College & Career Academy, the Center for Enhancing Organizational Learning and Development and the Great Promise Partnership Board.
"What we hope is that we can help to stimulate some thought around building partnerships and coalitions throughout the region to help to reinforce workforce readiness," said Curtis Woody, SHRM Georgia District 5 director and workforce readiness director for the Statesboro-Area chapter.
"We've got a lot of people doing some great work in institutions and agencies and government. One of the challenges we have is getting all of those individuals talking with one another, sharing ideas, sharing information and resources," he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.