Dear Georgia Workers and Employers:
Now it’s your turn.
Last month in this column, I urged state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond to call a jobs summit to seek ideas for reducing the biggest problem we face right now — double-digit unemployment. I got the idea from Thurmond, who had been quietly talking about it for months, but he was reluctant to pull the trigger.
Two weeks after I wrote about it, Thurmond announced an all-day summit for Monday at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. The goal is to bring together the “best minds,” as Thurmond puts it, from academia, business, government and labor to come up with promising job-creating measures. Democrats and Republicans are supposed to leave their politics at the door and help develop a practical, bipartisan strategy.
Well, the “best minds” also include you. While the meeting will be open to the public, most of you will not be able to attend. So, if you have a good idea, please go to the ajc.com Biz Beat blog and post it on this column. I know Thurmond and others will read it. Valuable ideas are too precious to ignore.
But before you do, there are two key points to know.
First, a huge part of the problem stems from “structural unemployment” — lots of workers with obsolete skills — and the male ego. The face of unemployment has changed in this recession, which has disproportionately battered the manufacturing and construction industries. As a result, 58 percent of those collecting state unemployment insurance now are men. But, like some men avoid going to the doctor, many are not getting retrained as they should.
Men make up only 37 percent of the labor department’s training programs and only 37 percent of the state’s technical colleges, Thurmond said. Men only comprise 43 percent of the state’s university system of two-year and four-year schools.
“This is the most pressing socio-economic issue facing the state and nation,” Thurmond said. So, he needs help figuring out how to reach more unemployed men and get them into existing programs.
Will public service announcements do the trick? Baseball bats for the really hard-headed? What will work? It’s key to reducing the skills gap between unemployed workers and open jobs.
The second important point deals with money — in this case, the lack of it. State and local governments are strapped. So ideas that are going to cost lots of money won’t be much help right now. They’re not going to go anywhere.
Instead, more innovative ideas like the relatively inexpensive Georgia Works program are needed. In this program, workers get up to six weeks of training from a participating employer while the company evaluates the trainee. The worker continues to receive unemployment benefits, plus a $50 weekly stipend. The employer, in both white-collar and blue-collar industries, does not pay a salary.
About 60 percent of trainees in this program, which costs about $1.2 million annually, get hired.
That’s the goal of this summit — to reduce employer fear and stimulate hiring. So, put on those thinking caps and come up with some meaningful solutions. We’re all depending on it.
For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.