At the second meeting of the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Expanding Georgia's Workforce in Savannah, representatives from regional companies detailed their work to grow and improve the local workforce.

According to committee chair state Sen. John Albers, the group will hold six meetings to address the growing concerns regarding years of shortages in Georgia's workforce.

"Georgia has been named the No. 1 state to do business for nine years running," Albers said, "and if we want to continue claiming that title, we must ensure that our industries have a steady flow of experienced workers in a flexible labor market."

President and CEO of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce Bert Brantley said this is an exciting time for the Savannah area economically, but there are still worries about the workforce.

"Our ports are growing like crazy," he said. "We've got an incredible manufacturing sector that has been very strong here for a number of years but is about to play an even more important role in our economy. But there are also concerns about what's going to happen from a workforce standpoint, from a housing standpoint, from a child care standpoint — all the things that come in transportation with this incredible growth."

The business representatives at the meeting said they hoped any successful methods used to expand the workforce in Savannah might also be applied statewide. 

One example is how the Savannah Economic Development Authority's winning the Hyundai project in 2022 and working proactively, not reactively to shortages.

"We did an assessment based on what we think we need to hire just in the manufacturing sector over the next eight years, and it's pretty alarming," said Trip Tollison, present and CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, during the meeting. "We will have to fill 18,000 jobs, including Hyundai, their suppliers, and the other manufacturing corporations in the community."

SEDA hired a director of workforce, Maria Whitfield, to head employee recruitment and planning for Savannah Joint Development Authority. She is responsible for scouting talent in the four county areas of Bryan, Effingham, Chatham and Bullock counties. 

Whitfield is also leading a workforce study to identify labor and supply challenges facing existing and future employers within the region. 

At the meeting, she said SEDA's finished study will provide a clear plan on the best methods to recruit workers. The organization will then share those findings and practices to other groups across the state.

"When the study is complete, we will have a full definition of skill sets, demand and talent deficiencies," she said, "and we'll do a deep dive into the workforce development plan and share best practices."

According to Whitfield, the study's estimated projection concludes that Hyundai will have about 8,100 jobs. She anticipates that project hiring 500 employees before the year's end and adding an additional 17,750 people between 2023 to 2031.

Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, headquartered in Savannah, discussed how its Groves Aviation Pathway Program recruits eight grade students from the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

Groves High School teachers teach eighth to 10th grade students in the high school's labs and classrooms, while Savannah Tech professors train junior and senior students, where they can earn dual enrollment credit.

Graduates of the program are hired by Gulfstream and can take the skills they learned in school directly to their roles as employees of the company.

"Although it is an aviation pathway program, the skills that the kids are learning through this program are equally applicable to any advanced manufacturing job," said Jay Neely, Vice President of Law & Public Affairs at Gulfstream.

Other companies present at the meeting shared programs such as:

  • Georgia Ports Authority: The YES program hires kids straight out of high school; 
  • Georgia Restaurant Authority: The ProStart Program is a two-year culinary arts program for high school students to staff restaurants; 
  • Daniel Defense: A program that starts high school students on the plant floor and, in partnership with Georgia Southern University, allows them enrollment and designation to Georgia Southern University's engineering program; 
  • Army Community Service Employment Readiness Program: A program that focuses on hiring assistance for military spouses in the Fort Stewart Hunter Army airfield area by assisting them in writing resumes, interviewing, career goal setting, and having a system that provides a weekly mini job fair; and 
  • Goodwill of Southeast Georgia: Responsible for 29 counties in the Southeast region, the company shared how it can maintain hundreds of employees by providing jobs to people facing challenges with sustainable employment and services like a technical college education.

For more information on the Senate Study Committee of Expanding Workforce, visit its website here.