During the first day of the College and Career Academy Summit hosted by Cagle, Floyd County Schools, the Floyd County College and Career Academy and GNTC, the lieutenant governor said that rather than denying the truth, it is better to embrace the fact that there is a skills gap that needs to be addressed.
“We all need to recognize that we’re losing,” he said. “Don’t try to hide behind it. It’s better for us to deal with reality than fantasy… and if we’re going to sit still, we’re going to be left behind.”
Instead of the industry falling by the wayside, Cagle challenged the leaders to build the economy around education because the two, he said, are yoked together.
Among the business, industry and education officials in attendance were State Superintendent John Barge, Commissioner Ron Jackson of the Technical College System of Georgia, GNTC President Craig McDaniel, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Career and Technical Education Matthew Gambill and Superintendent of Floyd County Schools Lynn Plunkett.
The event continues today.
During his speech, Cagle pointed out that during the summit’s panel discussion listeners were reminded just how rapidly business and industry moves in today’s world, and also that the present economy is vastly different than the economy of just 30 years ago.
“Each of us has the chance to shape what this economy and what this future for all of us is going to look like,” Cagle said. “It’s a huge responsibility… Quite honestly I don’t think there is anything, as a public policy maker, that is more important today than the education system in this state.”
Cagle emphasized that in order for the economy to flourish, the education system must be tapered to fit the industry’s technological needs. Also, if domestic workers aren’t available to fill those needs in the workforce, they will import workers who can.
“We know that we have to compete on a worldwide stage,” Cagle said. “When you look abroad, we’re losing the educational fight. We’re losing it on a worldwide stage; … we’ve got to innovate and we have to raise the bar every day across every educational spectrum.”
Cagle said that huge economic opportunities are arising in the U.S. because of events occurring in Asia and Europe, resulting in companies such as the manufacturing giant Caterpillar Inc. and Baxter, a pharmaceutical company, coming to Georgia.
“What is interesting about those industries is that they all located where there was a college and career academy,” he said. “We’re leading the nation in workforce development because of … what we’re doing with our college and career academies.”
Summit attendee Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Dalton Chamber of Commerce, said he was more than aware that there is a skills gap in the state.
“I heard a lot confirmation of things we already knew,” he said. “We’re continuing to have problems producing the graduates we need for the jobs that are available.”
However, Richie Johnson, who handles government relations at the Technology Association of Georgia, said the key to solving that issue is educating students about the technological skills they actually need in the workforce.
“As we move forward in developing the 21st century economy, we want to ensure that our students have the appropriate skills and the appropriate opportunities to advance themselves,” he said. “One of those components to moving up in America is making sure we have a strong technology background and a strong understanding of careers that are presented to you.”
Cagle said that for most of the 20th century the U.S. had a huge competitive edge in the workforce over the rest of the world. But as the economy suffered during the last 30 years America’s educational system was surpassed on almost every level worldwide.
“What was once our greatest advantage is slowly becoming our Achilles heel,” he said, adding that the key to building the economy around education is abandoning the idea of a one-size-fits-all model that was predicated on a 1960s educational system.
“When you put the students first and you give them the opportunity, great success can occur,” he said.