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Business leaders discuss ways to combat local unemployment

The CSRA is just like thousands of other regional business communities. There are unfilled positions, and despite recruitment, qualified candidates are hard to find.

About 300 business leaders listened to the panel discussion led by Augusta Metro Chamber Board President Tom Blanchard. Photo by Neil Gordon

The local labor shortage was the topic of a panel discussion (photo by Kathryn Freemon) called “From Pandemic to Sansdemic: Where Are All the Workers??” at the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Member Economic Luncheon on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center. Specifically, the discussion centered on strategies for engaging the more than 99,000 people between the ages 15 and 64 who aren’t actively participating in the workforce in the Augusta Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is comprised of seven counties in Georgia and South Carolina. Four business leaders served as panelists:

Cal Wray

Cal Wray – President of the Augusta Economic Development Authority, began the discussion by sharing current unemployment statistics in the Augusta MSA. Wray says in this region, the unemployment rate among those 16 and older who are noninstitutionalized is 3.5%. He also provided the formula for calculating the labor participation rate, dividing the number of employed and unemployed individuals looking for work by the population, which is how he arrived at the staggering number of people who are both unemployed and not seeking employment. “This doesn’t take into account any retirements,” Wray explains. Of course, the number also doesn’t account for students, stay-at-home parents, or those with disabilities.


Dr. Jermaine Whirl

Dr. Jermaine Whirl – President of Augusta Technical College, shared information about steps the college and the Technical College System of Georgia have taken to address the local labor shortage by providing short-term training opportunities and accelerated programs to prepare people for skilled, high-demand jobs, such as welding and aviation maintenance. To train people for these jobs, Georgia created the HOPE Career Grant, which means people ages 18 and older can complete a certificate or diploma program in one of these high-demand fields tuition-free. Whirl says one of the problems is many people don’t know about all the job opportunities available in the CSRA. For example, he states many don’t know Augusta has a Starbucks manufacturing plant, so local companies need to promote these opportunities. “I think there are a lot of things we can do collectively” to engage the unemployed population and “get people excited about work,” Whirl explains.

Brittany Burnett

Brittany Burnett – President of the United Way of the CSRA, says it’s important for companies to attract candidates by letting them know what they have to offer in terms of salary, benefits, and upward mobility. “Brag on yourself, and sell your company culture,” Burnett states. She explains some job candidates focus solely on salaries when choosing a job, so employers should help candidates understand the benefits available to their employees. Burnett highlighted the importance of meeting candidates where they are. For example, she says many companies only post their job vacancies on Indeed, but many candidates may not use that platform to find jobs. That means companies need to find other ways, such as television and social media, to advertise their employment opportunities. According to Burnett, it costs the state about $5,000, including lost tax revenue, for each unemployed individual, while the average, annual tuition rate at a Georgia State School is less than that.

Mary Hayes

Mary Hayes – Founder of WorkBay, discussed various ways companies can engage unemployed people. “Get involved in your local schools; get involved in career fairs,” Hayes says. “You need to start young.” She explains many older people speak proudly about their first jobs, whether it was delivering newspapers or working at McDonald’s. “We don’t create those opportunities for young people anymore,” states Hayes. She says it’s important for companies to create job opportunities for young people. According to Hayes, 38% of Georgians have a criminal background, but many of those crimes were nonviolent. It’s important for companies to give some of these individuals a second chance. “We can all provide that chance,” Hayes explains.

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