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Shortage of soft skills, skilled labor in work force
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(Pictured left to right): Cheryl Reese, DOL services specialist; Roslyn Ellis, assistant manager of the DeKalb Career Center, Ga. DOL; Mark Butler, commissioner of Ga. DOL; Cynthia Benefield, chair of the DeKalb/Rockdale Employers Committee; and Jerry Myers, vice-chair of Employers Committee.

Despite the unemployment numbers in the headlines, Georgia employers are struggling to find skilled labor with both the technical skills and soft skills needed for workplace success, according to Ga. Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. 

Butler spoke at the Jan. 15 meeting of the DeKalb Rockdale Employers Committee, held at the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library, about the programs to close these gaps and get Georgians back to work. 

“One of the big problems of our employers had, they were trying to hire but they could not find the workers,” said Butler.

Even jobs that seem like unskilled, such as picking fruit or working in a warehouse, involve specialized skills.

“Have you been in a warehouse lately?” he asked the audience. “It’s like something out of the Jetsons.”

“The good news is,” he continued, “Georgia is better prepared than most to handle that situation. Why is that? Our technical college system.”

Georgia’s technical college system can work with an employer or business to train students in the particular skills needed, he said. This is not the case in other states, where the technical college system is becoming more like a 2-year community college. 

But another common complaint he found across the board was a struggle to find workers with “soft skills,” or abilities such as showing up to work on time, showing up to work at all, dressing appropriately, having good communication skills and getting along with co-workers. 

“When I was growing up we called it things like ‘common sense,’ ‘manners,’ ‘good raising,’” Butler added.

“Everywhere we went, we heard this. It wasn’t just manufacturing; it could be an engineering firm, a school.  Everybody complained about it.” 

In response, the labor department started up the GeorgiaBEST (Business Ethics Student Training) in high schools to train students before they hit the workforce. Butler said schools tested students for these skills the same way employees are tested in real life: with day-to-day observation. Rockdale Career Academy was among 20 schools in 2011-2012 to pilot the program, which is now in more than 200 schools. Middle schools and businesses are asking for a version of the GeorgiaBEST program in their locations too.

Other developments Butler reviewed included a bill in the General Assembly that would allow the unemployed to either start their own business or look for a job in order to continue qualifying for unemployment benefits. The DOL is also close to paying off in May the $1 billion it owed to the federal government three years ago 

The Committee, organized by the Department of Labor, is made up of business owners and residents as a way to give feedback to the DOL.  Among the DOL’s main functions is overseeing the administration of unemployment benefits.