Charter school has head start training the kinds of workers needed today

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Justin Smith, an automotive student at the Central Educational Center in Newnan, is one of many students seeking a brighter future through the workforce-oriented training CEC provides.

By JEFF BISHOP jbishop@newnan.com Coweta County seems to have a head start when it comes to training the kinds of workers the world needs right now, according to a recently released research paper by Manpower Inc. Workers with specialized skills like electricians, carpenters and welders are in critically short supply, which is yet another obstacle to the lagging global economic recovery, the study concludes.
But the Central Educational Center in Newnan has been working to train local students in precisely those fields. The CEC in 2010 is celebrating its 10th anniversary. While its facilities have doubled in size during that time, and its enrollment -- from high school age to adult age students -- has more than tripled, the biggest achievement of CEC is that "Coweta County staked out a unique place in the changing future of high school education, and began to shape that future specifically to benefit our local community," said CEC CEO Mark Whitlock. "American K-12 education has been historically driven from a state level, sometimes from a federal level, but CEC is one example of how a local community can design new ways to provide educational services," he said. That new approach to local change was planned by a steering committee led by Dr. Joe Harless. In the process, local business leaders and educational leaders developed a new blueprint for other communities to emulate. "The blueprint begins with the end in mind: education ultimately supports a local economy," said Whitlock. "Education helps to lead a student into his or her own economic future. Education helps to determine whether or not a local community will enjoy a viable 21st century workforce." The CEC seems to already be addressing what Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres said his company "strongly" believes is becoming "an issue in the labor market" and "a real choke-point in future economic growth." The global staffing and employment services company says employers, governments and trade groups need to collaborate on strategic migration policies that can alleviate skilled worker shortages. Skilled work is usually specific to a given location: the work cannot move, so the workers have to. The shortage of skilled workers is the No. 1 or No. 2 hiring challenge in six of the 10 biggest economies, Manpower found in a recent survey of 35,000 employers. Reuters reported this week that since the 1970s, parents have been told that a university degree -- and the entry it affords into the so-called knowledge economy -- was the only track to a financially secure profession. But all of the skilled trades offer a career path with an almost assured income, Joerres said, and make it possible to open one's own business. In the United States, recession and persistent high unemployment may lead parents and young people entering the workforce to reconsider their options. The skilled trades category also includes jobs like bricklayers, cabinet makers, plumbers and butchers, jobs that typically require a specialist's certification. Older, experienced workers are retiring and their younger replacements often do not have the right training because their schools are out of touch with modern business needs, Reuters reports. Also contributing to the shortage is social stigma attached to such work, Manpower argues in its paper. Successful programs like the CEC are helping to wipe away those outdated stigmas, Whitlock said. The original vision of CEC included the idea that "new synergies among business partners, education partners, and other community partners" would form as a consequence of the intent of CEC, Whitlock said. "That mission, to ensure a viable 21st century workforce, has helped to yield new partnerships among secondary and post-secondary education, among business and education, and has helped to spur change at the state level," he said. "The vision can never be fully achieved... there are always new partnerships to develop." A poll of 15-year-olds by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found only one in 10 American teenagers see themselves in a blue-collar job at age 30. The proportion was even lower in Japan, Reuters reports. Education could address that stigma. Students should be reminded that blue-collar work can be lucrative: skilled plumbers can make upwards of $75,000 a year, Manpower argues.


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