Sometimes all of the pieces fall into place. Of course, this doesn’t happen by accident or in a short period of time.
Take the advanced manufacturing sector of Georgia. Currently, it’s producing $6.1 billion in goods while employing 270,000. However, part of the foundation of this success has been in the making for 50 years. That’s when Quick Start, its unique workforce program, began.
“Our program is structured differently than many others in that it’s an on-going free service,” explains Rodger Brown, executive director, Marketing and Strategic Media, Georgia at Quick Start. “ We create tailor-made programs for specific companies. And the assistance is not tied to a timeline; as long as the company is creating new jobs we are right there helping them train their workforce.”
This method has helped many companies become successful. One example is Caterpillar which has facilities in Athens. The company had planned on hiring 1,500 over a five-year period but with the help of Quick Star they achieved this goal in three years, says Brown.
Part of the speed at which this organization works is tied to its knowledge base. Through the process of developing programs that use the latest technology to help companies train their workforce, Quick Start has secured in-house expertise in a number of areas in manufacturing, says Brown. “We can then offer this to other companies that need these specialized skills that decide to establish operations in our area."
And companies are responding to this competitive advantage. For example, in 2018, SK Innovation, manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries for hybrid electric vehicles announced that it will be building a $1.67 billion plant in Jackson County creating more than 2,000 jobs. In announcing its new plant, the chairman of the company said one of the deciding factors was taking advantage of the no cost customized training.
The training is quite extensive, says Brown. In developing a program for SK Innovation, a group of people from QuickStart traveled to Korea to understand the company’s processes in order to create the training program. Quick Start will then did a pre-employment assessment which includes twenty hours of classroom work and 20 hours of hands-on work. After that, the applicants are rates and can then be given a job offer.
Not wanting to rest on its laurels, counties within the sate are improving and expanding workforce programs. Part of the improvement is to get area employers more directly involved in county programs. For example, Constellium, a manufacturer of aluminum alloys for vehicle lightweighting and an important supplier for the BMW, is working with a county created educational program to find talented workers.
In 2013, the Bartow County College and Career Academy (BCCA) was established as a joint venture between the community, K-12 education, post-secondary education, business and industry to ensure a viable workforce along with continued opportunities for the students of Bartow County.
Utilizing a $3.4 million grant from the state, the programs offered at the BCCCA include automotive technology, HVAC, engineering and welding.These programs are available to rising sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled in the Bartow County School System.
Recently, BCCA and Chattahoochee Tech co-cooperated to bring their expertise to Constellium in order to form a Career Academy. As part of the Career Academy, students gain first-hand experience working on key projects such as manufacturing crash management systems for global automakers. Apprentices are fully immersed with the plant’s automated systems and have hands-on experience working with, and repairing, the robotic assembly tools.
The value of this training is felt both by the company and the apprentices.
“I am so excited to go to the plant every day and learn a trade that I had no idea even existed,” said Ethan Thomas, an apprentice. “I’m a planer and even at 15 I was looking for a career that would support my future family and now at 17, I will graduate with a year’s worth of experience. I will continue my studies and stay with Constellium.”
Plant manager Bryan James, who leads the program and ensures that the apprentices are paired with engineers, echoes Ethan’s enthusiasm. “Within six months Ethan was a value to us, he was producing parts that go into our machines,” says James.
Seeing first-hand how technical knowledge can be applied in the workplace has captured the interest of potential students. “This program, which provides a mentor to the apprentices giving them someone to talk to about their future career plans, offers them an opportunity to see that what they were learning at school had real-world applications,” says James. The result of this was that it gave students the impetus to finish high school."
This, in turn, spilled over to a trend in the county, explains Paul Sabin, Principal, BCCA. “We have seen an increase in graduation rates almost 20% over the past six years,” says Sabin. “And part of that is attributed to programs like this. A higher percentage of graduates continue on a career path coming through route than those who didn’t have that opportunity."
One aspect of this program is that students are under 18 and working in the plant. The labor laws in Georgia have given the companies room to employ students who are not yet 18 to perform specific jobs. “It’s important for employers to understand that even younger students can provide value to the company and they should work with local and state agencies in order to be compliant with regulations,” Sabin explains.
Future is Looking Bright
Bringing in new talent to the industry is going to be key to the future for Georgia. “We are getting students who didn’t even know this type of work was available,” says Greg Doss, director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, BCCA. “It’s always interesting to see the reaction of students, and their parents, when they learn that learning a trade that is part of manufacturing can afford a nice lifestyle. The kids can graduate high school and find a job that can support them.”
Ethan would second that sentiment. “I want other students to know what is possible and I’m so thankful to Constellium for giving me this opportunity.”
Watching these young people succeed is what it’s really about said, James. “Our greatest asset is our people. Every time I walk the floor and I see Ethan working on a complicated process it amazes me. Our customers have seen him work as well and are just so impressed. He is an important part of our work family.”