Georgia Manufacturing Expo Highlights the Need for an Educated Workforce

Jon Richards

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Unknown to many, manufacturing is a fairly large source of Georgia jobs. Some 420,000 people are employed in manufacturing at more than 9,500 facilities around the state. And, according to Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, for each manufacturing job in the state, five additional jobs are created to support it.

That’s the kind of information one would expect to hear at the second annual Georgia Manufacturing Expo, which was held this past weekend at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. At Friday morning’s awards breakfast to kick off the event, the focus was on an educated workforce to fill these manufacturing jobs. It seems there are too few workers with the skills to fill all the positions that are opening up.

The lack of skilled workers drove Carrollton-based Southwire to create its own training program, called 12 For Life, according to retired Southwire Executive Vice President Mike Wiggins. The program features work-based learning that allows students to develop the skills they need to produce the wire and cable products the company manufactures. The work experience allows the student to earn two credits towards their high school diploma. The company also partners with a Carroll County charter school to teach a complete STEM program. Since the program began back in 2007, it has turned out 851 graduates.

Lt. Governor Cagle, who was the keynote speaker, pointed to a skills gap in the state. Noting that education drives the state’s economy, he highlighted the ways the state was being proactive in developing tomorrow’s workforce. Key to this effort is the development of college and career academies that show students (and parents) that there are other routes to a successful career than the traditional four year baccalaureate degree.

Cagle pointed out that a strong worth ethic, which he credited to the Peach State’s agriculture roots, makes the South an attractive place for manufacturers to locate. Using the Mitsubishi turbine plant in Pooler as an example, he said that the growing need for infrastructure in Asia and other locations around the world allows Georgia to manufacture materials and equipment, and ship them to wherever they are needed. Cagle blamed Georgia’s slow recovery from the 2008 recession on an economy that was too weighted towards the real estate and housing industries, and said it was critical for the state to develop a larger manufacturing base in order to dampen the effects of future recessions.

Dan Campbell, CEO of the staffing firm Hire Dynamics, agreed that learning the skills needed to compete in a manufacturing economy would pay off handsomely. Campbell stated that even with 10 million unemployed people, there were 4.5 million jobs available — mainly because there weren’t workers trained to fill them. Jobs in engineering — from mechanical to maintenance engineers and everything in between — were in the highest demand, and can offer the same or better earnings potential as jobs requiring traditional college degrees. The demand for skilled manufacturing workers in the United States, and especially in the southeast, is expected to continue to grow because higher wages being paid to workers in China take away the cost advantages of locating overseas.

As event organizer Jason Moss said while welcoming attendees, the Manufacturing Expo is about people. This is the second year Moss has put on the Expo, and he’s proud that he was able to double both the number of sponsors and the number of exhibitors. In addition to putting on the expo, Moss operates a Gwinnett-based manufacturing networking group, and ran about 30 plant tours of Georgia facilities over the past year.

For more information, visit the show’s website.