“Many workers in our area are considered ‘essential’ and had to move to shift work to keep things going. As COVID-19 continued, it became more apparent that we need to ensure we have a properly trained and available workforce.” –Paige Gilchrist
America’s workforce is changing. The emergence of digitization and automation is rapidly altering the job skills needed today and in the future.
Identifying the required future skills was the focus of a recent employer needs assessment survey conducted by the Brooks, Colquitt, Grady, Mitchell, and Thomas Counties Joint Development Authority (JDA). Created in 1998 by the Georgia legislature, the JDA is tasked with identifying and solving economic challenges within the region.
The online survey represents the first step in the JDA’s Regional Workforce Pipeline Development Project, partially funded through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The survey was designed to gather input that identifies future workforce skills needed for businesses within the region to remain competitive. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted normal business operations, the need for a workforce assessment escalated.
Paige Gilchrist, president of the Mitchell County Development Authority, says during the pandemic, many businesses continued working, some at a higher level, due to a large number of agricultural/food processing and manufacturing companies in the region.
“Many workers in our area are considered ‘essential’ and had to move to shift work to keep things going,” says Gilchrist who serves as chair of the JDA. “As COVID-19 continued, it became more apparent that we need to ensure we have a properly trained and available workforce.”
Barbara Grogan, president of the Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority, agrees that COVID-19 has heightened workforce issues. “The pandemic gave our businesses more reasons or value in answering the survey. The employment shift was out of their control, but it showed the need for a steady pipeline of workers.”
“I’ve been doing this work for 20 years, and this survey received the most responses I’ve ever seen. I’m very enthusiastic about the response to a completely voluntary survey with nearly 100 questions. That says a lot about the interest and commitment of the respondents in the region to their workforce needs.” –Russ Moore
Identifying future skillsets can be a challenge. According to a study by Dell Technologies, 85 percent of jobs in the next ten years haven’t been invented.
“We asked our regional industries to consider their workforce needs now and in five to ten years,” says Grogan, “With this information, we can begin working with our educational partners to properly prepare students for jobs in our region.”
The JDA secured the services of Russ Moore, owner of Seamless Education Associates, to administer the survey, prepare data analysis, and methods of response.
Information and data collected will assist the JDA in working with public school systems and technical colleges and universities within the region to develop curriculum, training programs, and work-based learning opportunities that represent employers’ most pressing workforce needs.
“I’ve been doing this work for 20 years, and this survey received the most responses I’ve ever seen,” says Moore. “I’m very enthusiastic about the response to a completely voluntary survey with nearly 100 questions. That says a lot about the interest and commitment of the respondents in the region to their workforce needs.”
Moving to the project’s next phase, Grogan says, “The data collected through the survey will help ensure we can meet the demands of current businesses as well, and seeing what skillsets their industry and particular businesses may require as they evolve with consumer demand and technology.”
In the survey summary, Moore says he will provide an overview of the results and specific data by county. “We are protecting the respondents’ data. For instance, there won’t be reporting on how many nurses a specific hospital needs to hire, but we will aggregate the need by region and county for specific job title, employment by sector, training and education, and several other categories.”
“We know how many people with an identified skillset are within 15- 30- or 45-minute drive-time, even up to an hour. For the right job and benefits, a person will gladly travel, as they want the job but prefer to live in a community where they have made a home.”–Barbara Grogan
Using a regional approach, survey participants represented businesses within the JDA’s five-county region, which routinely share employees that live and work in different counties.
In Georgia, with 159 counties—the second-highest behind Texas with 254—it’s not uncommon to live and work in different counties. Having counties tightly clustered together helps form regional labor markets, which are advantageous when presenting workforce numbers to industry prospects.
“Between our counties, we share a workforce,” says Gilchrist. “Students in Mitchell County can easily drive to Colquitt or Thomas counties to secure good-paying jobs. They need to know those jobs are here in our communities and have the right skills to succeed.”
Within Mitchell County, there are approximately 5,200 residents that commute to jobs in nearby communities. In contrast, 4,000 workers living elsewhere drive to jobs in Mitchell County.
“We know how many people with an identified skillset are within 15- 30- or 45-minute drive-time, even up to an hour,” says Grogan. “For the right job and benefits, a person will gladly travel, as they want the job but prefer to live in a community where they have made a home.”
Gilchrist says the minimal drive-time between counties also enhances the quality of life. “We not only share our workers, but it’s an easy drive to shop and eat in neighboring counties.”