ROCK SPRING, Ga. — Northwest Georgia officials are planning to catch some of the trickle down benefits Chattanooga’s new Volkswagen plant will bring to the region.
“Our Northwest Georgia counties will be ideal site locations for Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 suppliers to Volkswagen, given our proximity,” said Al Hutchison, director of economic development programs at Northwestern Technical College.
“Our local and state economic developers are aware of our strategic location and are preparing as many sites and existing industrial properties as they can,” he said in a prepared statement.
ON THE WEB
For more information about the Work Ready initiative visit http://www.gaworkready.org/index.html.
An array of area officials, from educators to economic development leaders, gathered Thursday at Northwestern Technical College to learn how Georgia’s Work Ready initiative, and its offshoot program Auto Alley, can help the area be ready for VW.
Work Ready aims to equip Georgia workers with the optimum job training and skills to match with what area employers need, and a worker certification program assesses workers and students to identify training gaps.
Auto Alley is being supported through a $500,000 grant to the Coosa Valley Regional Development Center, which includes Catoosa, Walker, Dade and Chattooga counties, to promote advanced automotive manufacturing, officials said.
The meeting Thursday was part of an ongoing effort to spur economic development, support education, and increase job training — all of which are increasingly important in light of Chattanooga’s July Volkswagen announcement, officials said.
communities and schools
Part of the initiative involves counties getting a Work Ready designation by commitment to improved graduation rates and showing that a certain number of residents obtain a Work Ready certificate. Criteria differ, depending on each county’s characteristics, officials said.
Walker, Catoosa and Chattooga counties have achieved Work Ready status, while Whitfield and Dade have not.
“We are working on it, a bit slower than everyone else, I guess,” Dade County Executive Ben Brandon said Thursday.
He and other leaders agree, though, Work Ready status is important to help promote economic development and increase employment opportunities .
Much of the focus begins with schools, officials said.
Superintendents from the Walker, Dade, Catoosa and Chattooga school systems attended Thursday’s session.
The Work Ready program urges not only high school graduation, but that students to strive for some sort of higher education, boosting employment, the economy and growth.
Walker County Superintendent Melissa Mathis said Ridgeland High School is a model for Work Ready participation, assessing students to identify the gap between their knowledge and skills and those they will need to land a successful job.
Ridgeland principal Robert Smith said all students on the school’s career and technical education path are currently being tested and by the end of the year all seniors will be also.
After getting the test/assessment grades, a certificate is awarded to individuals, depending on their score.
“I just think it sends a message to the students of how important their training and education is, and how it relates to getting a job,” Mr. Smith said.
The tests will help students realize their chance of getting a job at a certain business, and some officials hope businesses will begin to require Work Ready certificates before hiring a worker.
Mr. Brandon said he thinks the “merit-based” system will be beneficial. For years educators have known that each additional step in education will increase job opportunities, and this program will help educators convey that to students, Mr. Brandon said.
“It raises the bar,” he said. “It gets back to being a merit based system, which is what made the country great to begin with.”
Catoosa County Superintendent Denia Reese said the initiative will help schools achieve the important goal of preparing students for life after high school.
The benefits will also affect many other aspects of area communities, she said.
“Our purpose in participating in the initiative is to improve the quality of life for our citizens,” Mrs. Reese said.
Part of the Work Ready initiative, Auto Alley focuses specifically on the automotive industry, officials said.
At Thursday’s meeting Auto Alley representative Rich Hammond said the U.S. automotive industry is not dead, especially in the South.
Currently Northwestern’s automotive program trains students in automotive repair, Troy Peco, the program’s director, said.
Officials at Northwestern said Chattanooga’s Volkswagen deal increases the need for automotive training — not necessarily because students will automatically get jobs with the company — but because Volkswagen should attract other automotive related businesses, which will bring additional work opportunities students need to be prepared for.
“Training is very important,” Mr. Peco said. “They are not going to be able to drop out of high school and go be an auto technician in today’s world.”