Labor Commissioner Says Washington Needs a Plan

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During a visit to the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce last week, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Washington needs a plan.

“We need stability out of Washington,”

he said,

“We need some kind of plan…so businesses can know what their costs are going to be.”

Butler paid a visit to Ellijay last Thursday to give an update on the state’s employment situation and his office’s efforts to improve it. Despite the Nation’s lack of economic stability, the commissioner brought a message of hope for Georgia’s economy. When he took office two years ago, the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent. As of October of this year, the rate was 8.7 percent. Although above the alleged national rate of 7.7, Butler says Georgia’s numbers are better than those of the Nation as a whole. The reason, he says, is that the peach state currently has a record number of people in the workforce, while companies simultaneously create jobs.

“When the recession hit Georgia,”

he explained,

“we were in one of the largest growth periods and quickest growth periods in the history of our state.”

He went on to say that in a 12 month period, Georgia lost 85,000 construction jobs and 80,000 manufacturing jobs. Recently, though, he says the state has seen a dramatic turn around in manufacturing, citing that Georgia is almost at its highest level in its history for manufacturing jobs. Further, he said even construction jobs have picked back up this year for the first time since the recession hit.

The commissioner also asserted that although the Labor Department gives out unemployment checks, that’s not its job.

“That’s what we do,”

he said,

“That’s not who we are.”

He said the true job of the Department of Labor is to help Georgians get back to work. He said his department does not create jobs, saying that government interference is one of the worst things to happen to any kind of business. As such, over the last two years, the Georgia Department of Labor has developed ways to help get Georgians back to work.

One of these ways was to close the skills gap. A skills gap occurs at the end of a recession, when unemployed workers lack skills needed for industries that are hiring. One such program is Quickstart, a specialized training program for new prospects. Butler also discussed a pilot program called, Georgia’s Best.

“We piloted it in 27 high schools across the state,”

he said,

“It covers…how to interview; work ethics; how to dress (for an interview and professionally); how to get along with others—everything that would be expected of a young person in a business atmosphere.”

At the end of the class, students receive a certificate from the Department of Labor. The program was developed by business leaders and schools and won high marks from all participants. Following the success of the pilot, 130 schools signed on to the program.

Butler also mentioned the success of the Special Workforce Assistant Team (S.W.A.T). The team recently met with job seekers and helped them with resumes and prepare for interviews. The team then hosted a job expo where 80 employers participated. Although Butler said he hasn’t received the results of the event, he’s optimistic of its success.

Companies with plans to come to Georgia bring with them the promise of other industries, which can domino the growth of other fields of work, thus expanding the state’s job growth beyond manufacturing and construction, Butler explained.

Despite the progress reported by the Labor Department over the last few years, the dark cloud of national politics stifles the light of a healthy economy in Georgia.

“Everybody’s waiting after the first of the year and the fiscal cliff and what may come after that to see(what will happen),”

Butler says,

“because these companies don’t want to get into a position where they invest millions and millions of dollars and then things go bad, making themselves insolvent.”

The commissioner asserts that the growth in Georgia would be better if Washington showed some stability. For now, though, the peach state takes solace in its recent successes.

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