March 14, 2017 | News

Economic leaders reveal plan to better Cherokee’s workforce

Writer: Sampson Jenkins

Published March 9, 2017
Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News

With 78 percent of Cherokee residents traveling across county lines to work every day, economic leaders and business representatives have joined hands to offer a program that will “improve the workforce” and keep workers in the county.

The Cherokee County Office of Economic Development revealed the highly anticipated Cherokee Workforce Collaborative Strategic Implementation Plan on Thursday morning to leaders and business representatives in the community.

The plan was developed by community members representing industry, education, and other partners from economic and workforce development to form the Cherokee Workforce Collaborative.

The goal of the plan is to educate and train students and residents in the community to be more prepared for the workforce.

The plan consists of four key priorities to better engage with the community and students, including internships, innovative career preparation, business and educational alliances, sustaining momentum and aligning resources.

Greg Wilson of the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government said he and his team were hired to develop a workforce plan for Cherokee County.

“What will it take to take the Cherokee workforce to the next level,” Wilson asked the audience of about 75.

“You already have a history of economic development success in Cherokee,” he said. “We’ve seen that in the past year as well. One of the action items that came out of the Strategic Plan was to invest into workforce development, continue to meet the existing needs of industry and also plan for the industries of the future and the jobs of the future.”

Wilson said Cherokee has a highly educated community with a high percentage of the population having some sort of postsecondary credential, four-year degree or master’s degree.

“But, eight out of 10 residents who have a job are leaving the county every day,” he said. “As a community you want folks to have a better quality of life and not have to drive to downtown Atlanta every day. You also want to retain your talents here in Cherokee County.”

The Cherokee Workforce plan is a “huge opportunity,” Wilson added.

According to Gov. Nathan Deal’s Office of Student Achievement, in 2009 about 76 percent of Cherokee County graduating high school students enrolled in college the following year.

In 2015, six years later, about 41 percent of the same high school graduating class in the county earned postsecondary credentials.

“This shows opportunity,” Wilson said. “About 27 percent of the class of 2009 was working last year without any postsecondary credential. This is talent left on the table that should think about companies in Cherokee fulfilling their talent needs.”

Cherokee Office of Economic Development President Misti Martin said the collaborative developed four key priorities for the workforce pipeline and each priority category will have a leader and group of people that want to make a difference in the workforce community.

“I think you will all agree that we can make these things happen and we will be a leader in the state,” she said. “There’s a lot of great things going on across the county, but we have to put all of these things together and move forward.”

The first key priority is internships, Martin said.

“I was in a work-based program when I was in high school and that was the reason why I’m in economic development, because of an opportunity I had as a senior,” she said.

Martin said by giving students work-based experiences before they graduate, it will go a long way in making them successful employees in Cherokee County industries.

“We want to retain and attract Cherokee County graduates through high-quality internship experiences for secondary and postsecondary students,” she said.

This priority would increase the number of high school work-based learning students and launch a 20-person competitive postsecondary internship program, Martin said.

“We have so many smart kids that come out of Cherokee County schools,” she said. “They are going to Georgia Tech, Georgia, Georgia State, and out of state. What can we do for those best and brightest to bring them back and give them an experience after their first year of college with one of our advanced manufacturers or technology companies?”

Martin added that the CWC team believed this initiative would be a great opportunity for students and companies in the county.

The second priority is innovate career preparation, Martin said.

“We want to do a study committee and call it a college and career academy to see if we have the need and consensus to do something like that here in Cherokee,” she said. “We also want to increase the enrollment in the existing high school career, technical, and agricultural education programs. We feel like that’s an area that we could really improve and be a leader as well.”

Business and industry partnerships and alliances are the third key priority for the Workforce Cherokee Plan, Martin said.

“I think we already do a good job of this,” she said. “The Chamber has their ‘Partners in Education’ program but we would like to take those alliances a step further. We want to strengthen online resources and programs through purposeful business and industry interactions.”

Martin said parents and students also need to be educated on pathways to internships that the CWC will be rolling out.

“I think a lot of great internships and work-based learning are going on, but we need to put all of that together so we are promoting in a way that someone new to Cherokee County that’s not well connected can find those opportunities,” she said.

The final key goal of the CWC plan is to sustain the momentum, Martin said.

“We have a lot of great people who are involved and spent three half-day sessions going over information and coming up with this plan,” she said. “So how do we keep it moving? We are going to continue to push these initiatives to keep the plan going with the great work that you guys have put forth so far.”

Martin asked the crowd to get involved in the process because help and input is still needed.

“As of right now from a recruitment standpoint, we’ve never lost a project that’s looked at Cherokee County because of our workforce,” she said. “When we talk about the 78 percent that leaves every day they see that as an opportunity and there’s a lot of talent here in Cherokee.”