WOODALL: Growing economy means a growing need for skilled workers

Rob Woodall

There’s a lot of discussion surrounding the issue of economic growth. Naturally, we all want economic opportunity for our families, innovative products that improve our lives, and thriving neighborhoods in which to live.

From growth rates in GDP higher than we’ve seen in years — a remarkable 4.1 percent increase in the second quarter of this year alone — to record highs in the stock market, soaring consumer confidence, rising wages, and more, thankfully we’re seeing just that. It goes without saying, but of course it is vitally important that we also have a workforce prepared to meet the new demands of a resurgent, 21st century economy. The question isn’t if, but rather how to accomplish that goal.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than one million new American manufacturing jobs have opened up in the past seven years, but approximately 390,000 of them have yet to be filled due to a shortage of workers with the technical knowledge and operational ability. In fact, The U.S. Chamber also highlights that 40 percent of businesses can’t take on more work because they can’t fill the jobs they have.

As reported by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute — nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed over the next decade, and two million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap. Meanwhile, we’re seeing even more evidence of growing employment opportunities across the nation as the Department of Labor reported that job openings — approximately 6.7 million — exceed the number of unemployed for the first time since 2000. In Georgia alone, more than 14,000 jobs were added in June, which was more than double what was added in May.

In a recent study, the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University found that there will be an estimated 165 million jobs in the economy by 2020, and 65 percent of those positions will require some form of post-secondary education. While we’re doing a good job of producing post-secondary graduates — with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting that more than one-third (33.4 percent) of the adult population has a bachelor’s degree or higher — those degrees aren’t always translating into the needed skills for much of the job market.

In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that the total number of bachelor’s degree recipients has increased each year since 1970, reaching over 1.9 million during 2016, yet there remains a staggering amount of jobs for which employers cannot find candidates with the needed skillset. A study performed by the U.S. Chamber Foundation revealed that only 11% of business leaders said they were confident that college graduates were prepared for the workforce. That isn’t the kind of percentage we’d like to see, especially when these degrees aren’t cheap.

To satisfy this new-era workforce, America must re-evaluate the way in which we provide educational and training opportunities. We can do that in a variety of ways. We can do it in our communities by offering the kinds of programs that exist at Maxwell High School, for example, where students from all Gwinnett County Public Schools high schools may enroll in any of 13 state-of-the-art technologies, equipment, and facilities programs that go beyond what is available in traditional classrooms. We can do it by investing in postsecondary career and technical education institutions all across the country, which just so happens to be one of the things Congress has acted upon by passing the bipartisan “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.”

This legislation was signed into law by President Donald Trump just this week and takes direct aim at filling those economic gaps. It renews federal workforce development programs and allocates $1.2 billion a year to states while eliminating burdensome Washington red-tape and mandates on how success must be measured, thereby freeing up communities to determine the best way to serve their population’s needs.

Georgia just so happens to be atop the list of current beneficiaries, receiving an estimated $42 million in FY18 Federal CTE grants — sixth in the country behind only California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Ohio. One thing I know about our leaders here in Georgia is that I trust them with this responsibility far more than bureaucrats in Washington, and I’m confident that we’ll see these dollars provide exponential return in the long-run.

I’m pleased to see the economy growing and job opportunities expanding, and I believe there’s much yet to come, but I also believe it is crucial that we as a community, and as a country, are doing all we can to fulfil both sides of the economic promise. Together — through continued bipartisan efforts like the measure President Trump signed this week — I’m confident we’ll be able to deliver on that promise.

U.S. Rep Rob Woodall, a Republican, represents the 7th Congressional District of Georgia, which includes the majority of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, and currently serves as chairman of the Rules Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process, as well as serving on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and Budget Committee.