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Struggling to fill skilled positions
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A local company is looking to hire 100 people in the coming weeks, welcome news in an uncertain economy. But the staffing company that is handling the hiring process may have trouble filling those 100 positions.

While there are plenty of people out of work and looking for jobs, too few have the skills or experience for certain industrial positions, like those electrical, sheet metal and copper brazier positions Apollo Staffing is trying to fill.

“There’s definitely a skill gap,” said Jamie Cummings, general manager of Apollo Staffing on Industrial Boulevard. “The majority of the positions we have available, the population is not skilled in.”

Apollo hosted a job fair Tuesday morning, searching for 100 applicants for that local company, the name of which Cummings withheld to keep withheld to keep applicants from contacting its offices. Apollo got 15 applicants Tuesday, she said, “far short of what we would prefer.”

She said she is confident they would fill the positions for the company, which has two locations in Conyers and one specialized location in Covington, but worried that the skilled workforce could become even smaller in the future as high school students jump directly into entry level, rather than technical or skilled, positions.

 “If we’re talking about mechanical and industrial work, there are more skilled jobs than skilled workers,” said Martha King, chief executive officer of Associated Staffing Co. on U.S. Highway 278. However, she said for some managerial-type positions, there are more skilled workers than positions.

That some jobs are difficult to fill clashes with the reality of high unemployment and people unable to find work for years. “The applicants who call in every week who are unemployed, we have no jobs for them,” Cummings said.

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the seasonally-adjusted metro Atlanta unemployment rate has fallen from 9.9 percent in October to 9.2 percent last month. About half of those unemployed – about 249,000 people out of 468,000 total in November — are considered long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, a proportion that has been steady for at least the past year.

“A lot of people are on unemployment, but we can’t put them back to work,” Cummings said. Indeed, she said Apollo’s system has more than 5,000 applicants listed, but only a handful would qualify for available skilled positions.

There are two programs, one funded by the state and the other funded by the federal government, that offer help for tuition and supplies for people who enroll in certain technical programs, said Carol Rayburn Cofer, director of the workforce development division of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.

On the state level, the Hope Grant covers 90 percent of the standard tuition in a technical certificate or diploma certificate, according to the Technical College System of Georgia. The Hope Grant, which is part of the Hope program that includes the Hope Scholarship, is open to any person who has been a resident of Georgia for longer than one year regardless of high school grade point average and can be used at any of the state’s 26 technical colleges, including Georgia Piedmont Technical College here in Newton County.

The federal government also offers a Workforce Investment Act training voucher that covers tuition, fees, books and supplies for students enrolled in certain training programs.

“Not every training program that a provider offers may get put on the list (of qualified programs),” Cofer said. “We’re looking at demand occupations. At end of the training, there’s going to be the opportunity for employment. We look at the labor market for that and at past people who have been trained in that who have gotten jobs at end of training (when determining which qualify).”

Federal Workforce Investment Act money is administered locally by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, which covers 12 counties including Newton, and can fund between 1,200 and 1,500 grants, she said.

A list of Workforce Investment Act-eligible programs is available at Anyone interested in either the Hope Grant or the Workforce Investment Act programs can visit the Department of Labor’s Covington office on Industrial Boulevard. More information on the Hope Grant also can be found by contacting the financial aid office of any Georgia technical school.

Long term unemployment has strained state budgets and will cause a spike in the state unemployment tax. As a result of the large increase in the number of jobless claiming unemployment insurance benefits after the financial crisis and recession, Georgia, along with many other states, borrowed money from the federal government to make unemployment insurance payments.

Georgia’s unemployment trust fund was depleted in 2009 after the recession started, said Sam Hall, the communications director with the Georgia Department of Labor. The state borrowed $721 million to fund its unemployment insurance program as joblessness swelled.

Hall said that the federal unemployment tax, which is levied on employers in addition to the state tax to pay for the national unemployment insurance system, will increase by $21 per employee, to $42 per employee, under federal requirements and will go toward the principal of that loan starting Jan. 1. The federal tax will increase by another $21 per employee each year until the debt it paid off.

Hall said the General Assembly will meet with Gov. Nathan Deal and the Department of Labor next year to decide how best to pay off that loan as quickly as possible.

Georgia’s unemployment insurance covers people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own and provides a percentage of the person’s prior earnings up to $300 per week for up to 26 weeks, according to the Department of Labor. The federal government has extended that deadline to 99 weeks through February, with almost all the funding from week 27 through week 99 coming from Washington.

State lawmakers suspended some unemployment taxes for companies with a good record of paying their taxes in 1999, when the state’s unemployment trust fund had $2 billion in it. Lawmakers deferred an automatic reversion of the taxes several times over the last decade as the fund’s balance fell. It ran dry in 2009, during the worst of the recession.

An automatic increase in the tax under state law to replenish the fund was deferred again this summer.