Tashia Bond was close to attaining her dream, but paying for gas to drive from Macon to Albany to finish school was draining her limited resources.
She was struggling financially as she began attending Darton State College a couple of years ago to finish her nursing degree after completing core courses in Macon. She was in a one-income household, and it was difficult to pay for school, bills and gas money for the 200-mile trip for classes.
That’s when a former classmate mentioned the Workforce Investment Act to Bond. She decided to learn more about the program, which provides financial assistance and job readiness services.
“They helped me with tuition, books and fees and with transportation reimbursement for mileage,” said Bond, who’s now a registered nurse at Coliseum Medical Centers. “I was able to use the (Pell Grant) to live off. It helped out a lot around the house.”
In July 2014, the federal government passed a new Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act designed to better align workforce programs at various levels. It governs funds for workforce development programs such as the ones offered through the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. That’s where people are able to get the assistance needed to complete school and find a job, often in an understaffed industries.
Workforce development also can help participants find apprenticeships and internships.
“Sometimes an individual may feel they can’t go back to school and won’t be successful,” said Sheknita Davis, director of workforce development for the commission. “For some it’s a financial situation. That’s why we’re trying to develop more opportunities where they can earn and learn at the same time.”
In Macon-Bibb County, 404 people were enrolled in the adults/dislocated workers program from July 2014 through the end of June 2015. Earlier this month, the Georgia Department of Economic Development received a $2 million federal grant that will help the regional commission provide more career services to dislocated workers.
One of primary roles of workforce development is understanding which companies are hiring and what jobs they’re looking to fill, Davis said.
“We try to help (people) get on a path to train to get those type of jobs with sustainable living wages,” she said. “In-house, we try to assist them with things that help polish themselves even after they obtain the skill set.”
In Macon-Bibb, there’s an increasing need to fill highly skilled jobs in industries such as engineering and nursing. That’s why the workforce development program, through youth and adult services, is emphasizing preparing people to fill a backlog of positions, said Theresa Robinson, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Workforce Development board.
For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of registered nurse positions will grow from 2.71 million in 2012 to 3.24 million by 2022, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
“Workforce development is economic development because if you don’t have skilled workers, then you don’t have industries that are interested in coming in,” said Robinson, who is the region external affairs manager for Georgia Power.
The regional commission’s workforce development was also able to help Lizella native Courtney Christmas after she lost her job in a doctor’s office last year. At the time, she was in her second semester of studying respiratory therapy at Middle Georgia State College.
“I was having a hard time paying tuition and was worried about having to drop out of the program,” the 25-year-old said.
Christmas estimated that being involved in the workforce development program saved her close to $5,000 between tuition, books and nursing exams. She, too, is now a nurse at Coliseum Medical Centers.
“If you don’t have funds for a stethoscope, scrubs you need for school, just about anything you need they’ll help you with,” Christmas said.
One of the challenges ahead for workforce development will be replacing a large portion of the baby-boomer generation as they become eligible for retirement in the next decade, Davis said.
“We have to begin to work with people where they are and build their skills to fill some of the gaps in the industry,” she said. “If we’re not producing human capital, then it’s going to be a wash.”
Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority’s Marlon Baldwin credits workforce development with financial and career development support as he completed his accounting degree at Macon State College several years ago.
“Being a product of workforce development and the investment they made in me, and now being able to return that with the service we provide at the Industrial Authority is really an amazing opportunity,” said Baldwin, who’s now assistant finance manager for the authority.
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter