VALDOSTA -- Workers are the backbone of any business or industry, and knowing what its workforce is comprised of is essential to a community's ability to attract new jobs.

In order to create an accurate picture of the available workforce in an 18-county region of South Georgia, the State of the Workforce Report 2003 was compiled by the South Georgia Workforce Development Board and the South Georgia Regional Development Center.

"Our Workforce Board understood that to get where we want to go, we first have to have the courage to see where we stand today. Thus, we release the State of the Workforce Report 2003. It has both positive elements and some areas in need of work -- and is a straightforward, unvarnished picture of the reality we have to understand, before we can implement change," said Pauline Council, a Valdosta attorney and chairman of the WDB.

According to the report, the first of its kind conducted in the state of Georgia, the greatest job growth in the coming years will be in the highest paying jobs, which require better educated and highly skilled workers. Two of the industry sectors expected to grow are educational services and health services, while manufacturing is expected to decline.

"As we enter this new century, we see clearly that our region is at a serious turning point. When you read about plant closures, and the move of factories to countries with cheaper labor, you know that many lower-skilled jobs with good pay that we used to have in South Georgia are just gone -- some to Mexico, others to Asia," said Haley Rosenberg, director of the WDB.

"South Georgia formerly competed for jobs on the basis of low wages and low operating costs, but other countries have us thoroughly beaten in that regard. Instead, our region's new challenge for growth is to become a high skills region. And the end result should be higher wages and a higher quality of life for South Georgians-- as well as a vibrant economy," Rosenberg said.

Although the need for skilled workers is there now and will continue to grow, Rosenberg said the report demonstrated how far behind South Georgia is in educating and preparing its future workforce for the job market.

Nearly 30 percent of adults in the region don't have a high school diploma and the report states that South and Southeast Georgia have many adults that cannot perform common daily tasks due to trouble with reading.

In addition, as a result of focus group sessions with both employers and employees, the report states that employers are dissatisfied with job seekers' skill levels while job seekers believe they already have the skills necessary to be employable.

The report makes a number of recommendations for action, including the development of a regional literacy initiative and improving communication between educators, students, parents, and businesses to ensure the development of a world class workforce.

Rosenberg said the WDB hopes that a number of entities will come together locally and use the information to collectively confront the workforce issues in order to prepare the region for future prosperity.

The report states that the consequences will be extreme if the region chooses not to take action, with the potential loss of existing industry to other locations, the loss of talented youth with leadership potential that the region will need in the future, and difficulty attracting new business and industry.

To contact Business Editor Kay Harris,

please call 244-3400, ext. 280.

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