EDITORIAL: The need for skilled workers opens up many doors

One of the constant challenges in education is how to make classroom learning relevant to skills youngsters need later in life. Many schools are emphasizing, as they should, more STEM-based courses, but there are a number of occupations where science, technology, engineering and math play a part, but not to the degree where an engineering career is the outcome.

Last week at Clayton State University, members of Gov. Nathan Deal’s High Demand Career Initiative met and employers talked about their need for skilled workers right now. From Kroger to Coca-Cola, there are good paying jobs that sit unfilled because applicants don’t have the skills or certifications necessary to fill them. One area is drivers with a commercial drivers license (CDL), but a representative of Coca-Cola, who said the company is in “great need” of CDL drivers, said there are other qualifications they want their drivers to have beyond the license. Basically, they want employees who can talk to people and represent the company well. And while many schools, particularly the technical system, can teach students how to drive and get their CDL, the job of teaching interpersonal skills comes with exposure to different situations, and those situations should start as early as middle school.

Schools of all types need to do a better job of making the connection between the classroom and work. The Baby Boomer generation is retiring and thousands of jobs are opening up as a result. Many of those jobs will require more technical training than the boomers had when they first entered the job market, but as a young person looks around the state, there are many careers available where there is no fear of outsourcing. Many companies, such as utility providers, have training programs for linemen and other positions that pay very well.

For students seeking a degree or credential in a targeted industry identified by the governor’s initiative, enrollment is free, and the state’s technical college system is one of the most robust in the country with 24 campuses. Like Central Georgia Technical College with three campuses and six centers, many of the other colleges have additional locations.

There really is no reason for good jobs to go unfilled. School counselors at all levels need to study what’s available so they can guide students. That should be easier with the push for dual enrollment. A dual enrolled student can graduate from high school with a credential or associates degree. And best of all, it’s free.