Georgia lawmakers are looking at ways to boost the number of people who earn high school and college degrees amid a changing labor market that is tending toward more automated technical jobs.
More than 1 million Georgians could become “unemployable” in the coming years due to a shift toward technology-driven jobs that people with lower levels of education cannot fill, according to Stephen Pruitt, president of the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board.
Without access to adult education, those less-educated Georgians could be left in the lurch by 2030, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up automated and online-focused jobs, Pruitt told a Georgia Senate study committee Thursday.
“The reality is we’re going to have plenty of jobs,” Pruitt said. “The question is whether we’re going to have people to take those jobs.”
The Senate Educating Adult Students Study Committee met for the first and perhaps only time Thursday to look at programs aimed at expanding the educational experience and skills of adult Georgians to match them with more stable, higher paying jobs.
The committee is tasked with drafting a report by December that may recommend changes to state education policies to better support adults in need of more learning and work-oriented credentials.
Georgia already leans on its technical college system to educate and train thousands of adults in job skills and push them toward opportunities for college education, said the system’s assistant commissioner for adult education, Cayanna Good.
Last year, more than 32,000 adults took classes through the technical college system and earned more 6,000 high-school equivalency certificates, plus nearly 700 skills-based credentials, Good said.
But Good said she also sees the writing on the wall for many low-skill, menial jobs that could fall by the wayside in the rise of automation.
“Every single day I worry about my cashiers,” Good said. “Those jobs are going to be automated. They’re all going away.”
Some companies and programs are looking to fill the gap. The international thrift-store chain Goodwill has run free adult education schools in several states since 2010 and is now on the cusp of piloting two new schools in Macon and Savannah.
On top of helping adult students complete courses they’re missing to attain degrees, the schools run by Goodwill also aim to give people exiting prison a chance to increase their ability to be hired and maintain steady employment.
“We’re asking other employers to give them a chance so they can change their lives,” said Al Stewart, business development director for Goodwill in Middle Georgia.
Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, suggested the Senate committee may need to meet more than once before December to delve deeper into whether course credits for technical college classes and other programs like Goodwill’s actually teach the skills needed to secure better employment.
“Clearly, we need to serve a lot more Georgians than we’re serving now,” Jackson said.