September 4, 2019 | Spotlight

Institute of Government hosts workforce development conference in Tifton

Connie Reimers-Hild speaks with workforce development professionals during a tabletop exercise exploring successes in rural workforce development in Georgia. Reimers-Hild, a keynote speaker at the Innovating Georgia’s Workforce Pipeline Conference, is the founder of Wild Innovation, a consulting and coaching firm.

Writer: Roger Nielsen

More than 130 rural Georgia employers, educators and workforce development professionals gained new ideas for enhancing workforce initiatives at the University of Georgia’s inaugural Innovating Georgia’s Workforce Pipeline Conference.

The conference featured a program to help workforce professionals learn more about opportunities and challenges in rural Georgia and explore effective solutions. Topics included the benefits of internships and apprenticeships and successful ways of building talent for small businesses, such as collaborating with intermediaries like colleges, career academies and nonprofits to build workforce partnerships.

The keynote speakers, Jacqueline Ponti-Lazaruk, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development chief innovation officer, and Connie Reimers-Hild, founder of the consulting and coaching firm Wild Innovation, were selected for their expertise in working with rural communities.

Reimers-Hild has served as the chief futurist at the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute. She shared ideas and techniques for developing a positive vision for the future of rural Georgia. Ponti-Lazaruk, who leads the USDA Rural Development Innovation Office, said her office is providing technical assistance and working to align grant and loan programs to assist rural communities.

The conference, held in late August at the UGA Tifton Campus, was hosted by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit.

“Workforce development and education are critical issues for all of Georgia but more challenging in the rural areas of our state,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “By bringing these different segments of the population together, we help them discover opportunities for internships, apprenticeships and on-the-job training that they may not have known were possible.”

The conference provided the perfect mix of data, resources and networking, according to Kathy Oxford, who attended in her role as executive director of the Barnesville-Lamar County Industrial Development Authority.

“The information we got was broad enough yet detailed enough to give you a good snapshot of the four or five workforce development areas that everyone needs to pay attention to,” Oxford said.

The Institute recognizes the importance of workforce development to Georgia’s economy and works closely with public and private organizations to help them develop effective workforce programs, according to Laura Meadows, director of the Institute of Government.

“Workforce development is a top issue cited by economic development professionals, business leaders and government officials in creating and retaining jobs. We’re working throughout Georgia to help communities build their talent pipeline,” Meadows said.

The Innovating Georgia’s Workforce Pipeline Conference prepared leaders from across rural Georgia with new ideas, new strategies and new connections to build their workforce pipeline, according to Institute faculty member Greg Wilson, conference convener.

“Successful workforce development efforts require teamwork, and the conference introduced people to new partners and new solutions that really help build their workforce program,” Wilson said. “We look forward to continue serving as a resource as our rural communities craft and implement talent strategies.”

The Tifton conference is one of two Innovating Georgia’s Workforce Pipeline Conferences the Institute is presenting this year. A second conference, the Metro Atlanta Innovating Georgia’s Workforce Pipeline Conference, will be held Sept. 26 at UGA Gwinnett.