Educators learn workforce needs from military industry

Aug. 17--WARNER ROBINS -- Georgia companies need to recruit talented workers who can be job ready from day one, while educators need to know how to prepare students so they can find good-paying jobs in the state.

Both groups came together last week to learn how to achieve both goals.

The state's High Demand Career Initiative meeting took place Wednesday at Central Georgia Technical College, one of 13 similar meetings being held across the state.

More than 1,100 new businesses have decided to do business in Georgia -- creating more than 250,000 jobs -- since January 2011, said Ben Hames, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development's workforce division.

"We have great businesses that are planted in Georgia soil, and they are growing," Hames said.

But Gov. Nathan Deal has heard from the private sector that one of the greatest challenges facing businesses on the state and national levels is the need for a consistent, trained and reliable workforce, he said.

"So we wanted to create a platform, and we would go around (the state) and hear from companies in real time: What is the economic development issue of our time? And it is workforce and workforce development," Hames said. "That's what these (meetings) are about ... listening to you so we know we are gearing our efforts toward the marketplace and what is in demand in this economy."

Cecil Staton, vice chancellor with the University System of Georgia, said the state's universities have pledged to work with the state's business community.

"We want to make sure that the assets and capabilities of the university system are aligned with the needs of businesses," Staton said.

The meeting in Warner Robins was focused on the needs of the military industry.

Engineering leads job needs

Lockheed Martin, a global security aerospace and information technology company, mostly does business with the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies, said Jon Gustafson, Lockheed's director of workforce partnerships and incentives.

The company has about 6,000 employees in Georgia and subcontracts with more than 267 Georgia suppliers, he said.

In the next five to 10 years the company needs to fill jobs in engineering -- including aerospace, systems, software, electrical and mechanical -- advanced manufacturing and IT/cybersecurity, he said.

"We had more than 8,000 unique job titles in 2013," he said.

As of late last week, the company had 148 website job postings in Georgia. The jobs included several engineering positions, pilots and janitors. Many of the jobs require security clearance.

Michael Paulk, vice president of program management with Meggitt PLC's plant in Rockmart, northwest of Atlanta, said "we are poised for growth."

"It's really why I'm here," Paulk said. "We need people who know how to be program managers, project managers ... and all types of engineers."

The company also needs people who can sew upholstery.

"It's an aging craft, but I need (those workers)," he said.

At the Rockmart facility, "we make crash-resistant, ballistic-tolerant gas tanks. We also do composites such as aircraft ice protection and de-icing and aircraft interiors," Paulk said.

A British-based company, Meggitt has 1,025 workers at its Georgia facility.

Paulk said that while he needs skilled workers, he's looking for something else that's sometimes elusive.

"I think anybody in the private sector would agree with me. Just give me a basic trained person," he said. "If you want to go the extra mile, give me somebody" who is a team player, problem solver, is self-motivated, works efficiently and has good judgment.

"I don't know if we teach this kind of stuff in the university system," he said. "If they can hit the ground running and they (have the basic skill sets), then I don't have to do on the job training."

Staton said he has heard that request from other companies.

"That's something we take to heart," he said. "Our (university) system presidents are aware of this and are beginning to think of ways we might better incorporate that into our students."

Jamie Cook, branch chief for engineering workforce development at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, said cuts in the country's defense budget have hurt some recruitment efforts.

"About 10 years ago we had a grand co-op program with the local technical school systems ... to help build up the workforce at Robins (Air Force Base)," Cook said. "Obviously, some of that growth has diminished somewhat."

But one specific area that is growing is the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.

"The big business at Robins is sustainment," Cook said. "Our mission relies on the specialized skills of its technicians and professional engineers.

Workers also are needed in software maintenance, he said. Old planes still need to be flown safely.

"Also, we really need electrical engineers," he said. "Thirty percent of our workforce is eligible to retire in five years."

Teachers must help develop an interest in STEM beginning in kindergarten, and it should be a focus of students through middle and high school, Cook said.

"Women and minorities do not choose to go into engineering," he said. "It's a tragedy. We need to make them aware and help them (go into engineering). If the students are overwhelmingly white male, then you can't hire a diverse workforce."

Dan Murray, business development lead with the Mercer Engineering Research Center, said a lot of job opportunities are now available in cyber security.

The center provides complete engineering life-cycle support to keep aircraft flying.

"We do a lot of testing, such as instrumented flight test and looking at structural improvements," he said.

The center also does a lot of 3-D printing and gets into biomechanics and finding ways to help people return to work after being injured.

Joe Brooks, a senior research engineer with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, said "part of our secret sauce is students. We bring them in, get the security clearance they need and teach the culture of the organization."

The institute, which has more than 1,900 on staff in 10 states, focuses on research in a variety of areas including electronic warfare, cybersecurity, radar, unmanned systems and aerospace technologies.

"We have 28 employees who support Team Robins," he said. "A lot are Georgia Tech graduates, a lot are Mercer (University) graduates."

But the center has trouble finding all the people it needs.

"We had to go to contract employees," Brooks said. "Our No. 1 need is electrical engineers, followed by (people in) computer engineering, physics and systems engineering. ... GTRI is recruiting. It has 99 active job postings for research faculty positions."

The improving economy is increasing competition for engineers and scientists, he said.

"Co-op or student employee pipeline is the best long-term approach to meeting entry-level needs," Brooks said. "An affinity to your organizational mission and goals is key to maintaining the workforce."

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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