This article appeared in the October 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
he economic strength of cities, counties and states lies with their residents and their ability to adapt and thrive in an ever-evolving workforce. In recent years, Georgia has experienced explosive economic growth and is working diligently to sustain it. Between 2010 and 2015, for example, employer job postings in Georgia grew 154 percent, compared to 142 percent growth nationally. Between January 2011 and December 2014, Georgia added nearly 400,000 new jobs. All this success has led to the state being recognized nationally as the number-one state in the nation to do business. Still, Georgia is facing the ongoing challenge of closing a rapidly growing talent gap—a mismatch between degrees and skills needed by employers versus the degrees and skills of the population. Currently, approximately 60 percent of all job postings in Georgia require at least an associate degree, but only 48 percent of the state’s adult population has at least that level of education. In other words, Georgia’s labor supply does not meet the current need of employers.
This sobering reality begs the question: What is our state’s best shot at addressing this issue? A high-leverage strategy to ensure long-term results is investing in a robust public education system that prepares all students for lifelong success. The economic future of not only individuals, but also communities, businesses and the state depend on Georgia being able to develop an education and workforce pipeline that meets the growing demand for highly qualified employees. Fortunately, state level leaders are taking steps to make that future a reality. To help fill the talent gap and support communities across the entire state, Georgia is implementing ambitious education policies to increase the skill level of its workforce, including more rigorous learning standards, dual enrollment and Move On When Ready/dual enrollment programs, for example. These policy initiatives are much needed, but there’s more work to be done.
At the local level, elected officials, alongside community and business leaders have a role to play and can support long-term success in their communities by tightly aligning local initiatives and ensuring they’re collectively promoting what we call the “Healthy Economic Lifecycle.” The Lifecycle, which is a model for economic well-being and growth, is comprised of a series of interconnected steps that show:
- A healthy birth supports preparation for strong early learning and K-12 experiences, which in turn supports
- Successful transitions to post-secondary education and a career
- With the ability to earn proper wages, successful adults build strong families and make investments in their communities, thereby
- Providing more opportunities and increasing the probability that the next generation will be even more successful
While this model is highly effective, it is not self-sustaining. The threat of students falling out of the healthy lifecycle and failing to move on to post-secondary education is ongoing. And it isn’t just their own economic trajectory that is compromised; it is also the trajectory of their community.
What’s clear from the data is that Georgia’s economic prosperity in an increasingly competitive national and global environment depends largely on the effectiveness of our state’s public education system. Ultimately, whether that system is successful is not the responsibility of state leaders alone. It’s crucial for elected city leaders to work collaboratively with their business, school system and community leaders to improve their education and workforce pipeline. Together, they can create the collective impact that can make their cities and ultimately the state, stronger.