In the face of nationwide staffing challenges, the Technical College System of Georgia is working to empower a skilled workforce to help drive the state’s accelerated growth. With 22 colleges and 88 campuses offering more than 600 programs, from welding and aviation maintenance to nursing and accounting, TCSG works closely with employers across the state to tailor their offerings to meet real-time needs. The recent announcements of Rivian and Hyundai’s record-setting investments illustrate the confidence businesses place in the state’s ability to deliver a highly skilled workforce. In fact, the system offers a unique guarantee: If an employer finds a TCSG graduate is deficient in any competency, the college will re-train the employee at no cost to the employee or the employer. Here, TCSG’s Commissioner Greg Dozier talks us through some of the organization’s wins and the strategy for a bright future.
How does a strong technical educational system help alleviate the strain of workforce and hiring challenges?
TCSG colleges are laser-focused on what is known as “middle skills.” These jobs require a credential or training beyond a high school diploma but not a four-year degree. According to the National Skills Coalition, 15 percent of Georgia’s jobs require a high school equivalency, 32 percent require a four-year degree, and 54 percent require skills training beyond high school. However, 42 percent of Georgians have this training, meaning there is a 12 percent “skills gap” for these middle-skill jobs. This gap is not unique to Georgia; it is something every state across the country is tackling. We are always exploring ways to close this gap so business and industry can have the skilled talent they need to remain competitive.
Can you share a few strategic TCSG initiatives that you’re most excited about?
One of the things I am excited about is our HOPE Career Grant initiative. The state identified 17 (soon to be 18 with the addition of Law Enforcement) high-demand career fields where there are more job openings than workers. To spur interest, the state will pay a student’s tuition if he or she enrolls in a certificate or diploma program aligned with one of these 17 career fields. We are also excited about providing Georgians who do not have a high school diploma more options to earn a high school equivalency. In addition to the traditional GED, we now offer another high school equivalency exam called the HiSet and are piloting programs called Option B, Career Plus, and Dual Achievement where, in addition to a student earning a high school equivalency, he or she can also earn a TCSG certificate, diploma, or degree at the same time. This will provide them with marketable skills that can help close that middle skills gap.
Gov. Kemp has been vocal about the need to focus on increasing business opportunities in Georgia’s rural areas. How is TCSG helping facilitate that goal?
Wherever there is business and industry in Georgia, there is a TCSG college close by to work with that business. Our colleges are here to create programs that will specifically align to their individual workforce needs. A great example of this is the forestry program at Coastal Pines Technical College in southeast Georgia. Beasley Forest Products in Hazlehurst approached the college about creating a program designed to train students in the forestry industry so they can hire them after completion. John Deere has a great partnership with South Georgia Technical College where they developed a diesel mechanic program with the college to ensure they will have a pipeline of skilled technicians for years to come. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, TCSG launched an initiative called eCampus, which significantly increased our online program offerings for students anywhere in the state. This provides students in our more rural areas the same opportunities as those in larger metro regions.
Why is building a strong, skilled trade workforce so vital to the state’s business landscape and economy? What are some hurdles you’ve helped overcome?
The skilled trades are truly the backbone of our economy. So much of our daily lives have been touched by a skilled worker in some way. From the roads we drive on and the buildings we work in to the cars we drive to the internet we use, we count on people with these skills every day. Without this vital component of the workforce, the disruption to our lives and to the economy would be enormous. We continue to educate the public about these opportunities and that job openings in the trades are everywhere. People in the skilled trades can make an excellent salary—[often] six figures—and many own their own businesses. Learning a skilled trade is true job security.
How and why does TCSG support students or potential students who are outside the “typical” university or college age?
The average age of the TCSG student is 27, so we serve a large number of students who are outside the typical college age. We strive to meet all students where they are in life, no matter their age or their circumstance. A large segment of our student body are adults who are either returning to college after some time away or giving college a try after spending time in the workforce. Many of our students are enrolled part time, are working, and have a family. We offer flexible course schedules, with night, weekend, and online classes. We have support systems at the colleges and offer wrap-around services for those who may need it so students can focus on their education. It is important to provide all of the opportunities that we can for the adult learner to earn that postsecondary credential that cannot only change their life, but their family’s as well. I see it all the time—the impact our colleges have on lives all across Georgia.