Ronald Jackson, Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, spoke to the Gwinnett Chamber at a luncheon on Wednesday at The 1818 Club about the need for a skilled workforce in a global economy. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
DULUTH — When the circuits burned out of the motherboard in Ronald Jackson’s home heating system last weekend, he was glad to see a technical college-trained technician arrive.
“There is nothing in that unit that made sense to me,” said Jackson, the commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia in a lunch speech Wednesday at the Gwinnett Chamber.
Thankfully for Jackson, a working motherboard was available, and after the technician rewired the motherboard, in moments heat returned to the Blue Ridge home.
“Your air-conditioning, your electricity, everything in your home, everything in the infrastructure of this country runs on technology,” Jackson said. “To fix it, to make it work, to make every manufacturing plant work, you’ve got to have technicians who know how these things work. How technology works, how systems work.”
Jackson’s message was the technical education system is a vital part of the state’s economic development strategy. Speaking to Gwinnett business leaders, Jackson said a technical education gives businesses a skilled workforce they need to compete in a global economy.
“If you can’t do something, not just be smart, but apply that, you’re going to have a hard time succeeding in the workforce. I would have a real tough time if I were starting in the workforce today,” Jackson said. “Students coming into the workforce have to know how to do something. Everything in our economy is driven by technology.”
While the enrollment at technical colleges rises and falls with the economy, Jackson said last year’s enrollment at 24 colleges was about 151,000 students, down from about 195,000 two years ago. He projected this year’s enrollment would be about 170,000. Locally, Gwinnett Technical College has about 21,000 students and has grown about 70 percent in 15 years. That delivers about a $227 million annual economic impact.
Last year statewide, 28,300 students graduated with a credential in a technical field, and 80 percent of those graduates were placed at a job in their field.
“We feel very strongly that the technical college system of Georgia, and our colleges and partners, are so connected to business in providing the kind of workers that you need, to train in the skills that you need, (that it) makes us a really important component of Georgia’s economic development strategy,” Jackson said.
While Jackson noted enrollment levels, he also said there are 1.2 million Georgians who are 18 years old and older who don’t have a high school diploma, which he called, “a huge challenge.”
“For us to compete globally, for us to compete against our sister states, for us to create a workforce to compete, they’ve got to be smart, they’ve got to have skills, and I can tell you, here in Gwinnett County, I think you’re blessed,” Jackson said.