Atlanta Business Chronicle: Workforce development initiatives underway in Clayton County

Workforce development initiatives underway in Clayton County

By Gary McKillips - Contributing Writer, Atlanta Business Chronicle

While COVID-19 interrupted some of the workforce development initiatives in Clayton County, organizations and individuals continue their efforts to help the unemployed and develop talent for local companies.

Aerotroplis Atlanta Alliance, a public-private partnership founded in 2014, works to create a qualified workforce for companies in and around Clayton County. Also, out front in workforce development are the county's schools and universities, including Clayton State and the Technical College System of Georgia. In addition, Congressman David Scott (GA-13) has sponsored a job fair for the past 16 years. Although it was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Scott is now working to provide housing and jobs relief for the county as part of an upcoming federal stimulus package.

The Aerotropolis Alliance operates through three major channels: economic development, education and workforce development. All play some role in finding and developing talent, said Shannon James, Aerotropolis president and CEO, adding that the organization focuses on the southside of Atlanta. 

“What we have is a centralized business district surrounding a major airport,” James explained. “It gives us a regional view of how we can support each other in economic and workforce development.” 

During this period of social distancing and closures due to the pandemic, the organization is partnering with companies and communities to assist with providing food, masks and other needs, he added.

Corporate members of the Aerotropolis Atlanta Alliance include Georgia Power, Porsche Cars North America, Delta Air Lines Inc., and Chick-fil-A. The job of filling the personnel needs of these organizations is immense; according to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the airport under normal conditions has more than 64,000 employees with an annual economic impact of $34 billion. Clayton County has a workforce of just over 135,000, according to Data USA.

Morcease Beasley, superintendent of the Clayton County school system, chairs the Alliance’s education division, which partners with other groups “to ensure Clayton County and South Fulton students take advantage of the opportunities available within the Aerotropolis,” he said. “We create programs to produce the type of employees businesses would like to hire.”

One of the most successful efforts by Beasley’s group was its first career fair last fall, which attracted some 400 upper-level high school students. The education division of the Alliance also has developed career pathways curricula in such areas as technology, education, agriculture and other top county industries. The pathway programs include training in business careers as well as for public service professions such as firefighters and law enforcement officers, Beasley said. Each pathway offers three courses, which currently are online due to school closures around the coronavirus pandemic. 

Students in grades 9 through 12 also can take advantage of dual degree programs with the Technical School System, which allows them the opportunity to complete an Associate Degree, Technical Diploma or two Technical certificate programs while in high school. Georgia Power, in conjunction with the school system, also offers experiential learning programs.

A major boost to workforce development in Clayton County and throughout the nation would be the passage of H.R. 6368 that U.S. Congressman David Scott, who represents Clayton County, hopes will become part of the next federal stimulus package. The Congressman’s proposal would provide $75 billion to the states based on need with a minimum amount granted to each state. The money would go to people “who have lost their jobs, whose mortgages are being threatened and who need help paying their utilities,” said Scott.

The Congressman has long supported workforce development as evidenced by the job fairs he has hosted in his district, which for 16 years have matched employers with ready-to-work talent. According to Chandra Harris, district director for Congressman Scott, the most recent fair last March attracted 142 companies seeking to fill approximately 5,600 positions. Annually the fair averages 10,000 to 16,000 attendees to the Georgia International Convention Center (GICC) and includes employers such as fire and police departments, banks, retail stores and corporations including Delta Air Lines Inc., UPS, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Georgia Power. The Federal SBA (Small Business Administration) has also been a player in the job fair, as have the Georgia Association of Broadcasters (GAB) and the Veteran’s Administration (VA), Harris added.

Companies and educators need to start looking “around the corner” when it comes to workforce development in the future, Scott said. The next job fair, whenever it can take place, will be informational in nature, he added, with experts conveying the many changes that will shape the job market of the future.

Clayton County workforce development initiatives at a glance 

  • Aerotropolis Alliance brings public/private sectors together for workforce development and held its first job fair for high school students last fall. 
  • Clayton County Public Schools offer career pathway and dual enrollment programs for high school students. 
  • Georgia Power offers experiential learning for students. 
  • U.S. Congressman David Scott, who represents Clayton County, sponsors an annual employment fair that attracts between 10,000 and 16,000 job seekers and more than 500 companies.