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Businesses want an educated, skilled workforce and education is the answer

Events touting education, partnerships between business and educational institutions, and how they prepare local residents for highly skilled in-demand careers stood center stage last week in Augusta.

Three events, the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Augusta University and the Savannah River Nuclear Lab, A.R. Johnson High School students getting hands-on education in cancer research and a new format for the dual enrollment program between Augusta University and the Columbia County School District will all impact workforce development and how education is the silver bullet to make this area attractive to new businesses.

Under the MOU, there will be a focus on three primary areas crucial in cybersecurity. The first is education and workforce development. It will also allow collaborative research and technology development. Finally, Augusta University students can get more involved in security issues, particularly those important to SRNL global security.

“Another kind of component in this partnership will be the pursuit of research opportunities together, you will be looking at things like cyber security, cyber-physical systems, data analysis, data analytics, mathematical modeling, augmented and virtual reality in quantum cryptography,” said Augusta University Provost, Neil MacKinnon. “Today is significant not just for each one of us here, but also for the future of our students and our region’s workforce. Through this partnership, we are creating a crucial pipeline to educate and train the next generation as we passed the mission of global security.”

MacKinnon said, particularly for individuals interested in the cyber fields, this can provide real-world work experience. He also called the partnership a workforce pipeline to an important partner.

Dr. Tammy Taylor, associate lab director for global security at SRNL, said a trained workforce is attractive, but it is enhanced by the ability to hire local people.

“So, the best success is having a workforce that’s stable,” she said. “And we’ve found over and again, that if you’re bringing people from the outside, they might stick with you for three to five years. But having people who are rooted in the community, who have extended family with the community is really important to us. But the students here at Augusta University have even more than that. They come with deep experience rooted in the Department of Defense primarily from other regional activities.”

The Georgia Cancer Center is focusing on the next generation of healthcare professionals. The center has the Mobile Cancer Molecular Biology Lab Experience for Local High Schools, developed by Dr. Yuen Keng Ng. It visited A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School to give students with an interest in healthcare the chance to test for cancer, in this case specifically for leukemia, just as doctors and lab workers are doing.

“We’re introducing these local students to careers that they can attend college locally, they can come to Augusta University, and they can major in biology, biochemistry, they can go to graduate school here, they can continue their whole education process in their hometown. And then, we have the advantage that they can join our workforce in the future,” explained Dr. Rhea-Beth Markowitz, Director of the Office of Grant Development at Augusta University.

“They’re also afforded opportunities to hear about and see in action, the careers in the cancer biomedical workforce,” added Principal Emily Driggers. “So, for our students to be a part of this, it’s just mind-blowing. This is what our students do, they are preparing for careers in healthcare. And it’s really, really important for them to make those real-world connections.”

The third event will shorten the bridge between high school and college with a new dual enrollment program in Columbia County High Schools. Rather than students driving to the Augusta University campus, instructors and professors will go to the high schools.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students that are in high school right now, to not only get the credit that they need for college, but also to get that college experience and have it in a convenient way by having the teachers, instructors and professors come to the classroom, where they where they live, if you will, and provide that education,” said President, Brooks Keel.

Superintendent, Steven Flynt said this program plays right into the district’s focus on providing students with the education and training to have successful careers.

“Workforce development is something all of us in education are very focused on. We have a core level of classes and electives that we provide right now. But with the additions at all of our high schools that we’re going to be looking to do over the next 10 years, we’re going to incorporate this into that work. And so, the level of courses for CTAE (Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education) for workforce development is going to continue to expand,” said Flynt.

Scott Johnson, Columbia County manager, said many students are taking advantage of the dual enrollment, benefiting them and potential employers.

“So, between the school’s efforts with dual enrollment working with our local colleges, our CTAE program and the entire program that we have right now is amazing and we have hundreds of Columbia County students now that are getting real-life experience in high schools, through a CTAE program, getting more credit for that,” he said. “It gives us great opportunities.”

Representative, Jodi Lott (R-District 131) said Augusta Technical College is also instrumental in educating and training residents to join the workforce. She said the state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology Center the college is planning in Columbia County will make the county even more attractive to potential businesses.

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