By Mark Butler
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There is no doubt that Georgia is facing genuine economic difficulty. This year, the unemployment rate reached a record high of 10.3 percent. During this economic uncertainty, businesses are hesitant to risk expanding and hiring new employees.
Many initiatives are being proposed to boost job growth. A program native to our state, Georgia Works, recently has gained national headlines. In its original format, Georgia Works was designed to assist job seekers in finding employment by offering individuals the opportunity to train with an employer, to gain relevant experience, while simultaneously allowing employers to witness their potential.
Over the span of eight years, 24.2 percent of those who participated in Georgia Works were hired by employers who provided on-the-job training. Although this number is not significant, it does show that the program can be one possible tool to get people back to work.
I applaud the concept of Georgia Works; unfortunately, the potential was not maximized because of poor implementation. The costs of maintaining the program ballooned from approximately $500,000 a month to more than $2 million a month by December 2010. Because of the lack of oversight and drastically increasing costs, it was necessary to scale back the program when I took office in January.
During these trying economic times, business leaders and individuals are evaluating any concept that may create job growth and boost our economy. We must thoughtfully plan for steady, private-sector job growth while simultaneously maximizing taxpayer dollars. In order to properly administer this program, we must significantly reduce costs, while providing greater oversight to ensure that trainees receive proper instruction.
Georgia Works is not the only answer. We must be diligent in developing innovative ways to better develop our workforce to compete in the changing global marketplace. For Georgia’s recovery to gain solid footing and return us to economic prosperity, public and private sector leaders must work together not only to attract new industry, but also to help existing businesses grow. As we work together, I am confident Georgia will emerge stronger and remain the economic engine of the Southeast.
Mark Butler, a Carrollton native, took office in January as Georgia’s ninth state labor commissioner. He succeeds Commissioner Michael Thurmond, who served three terms.