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Cagle calls for state to produce best workers
barbara and lavine
Effingham County High School graduate Heather Martin LaVine, right, is recognized by Effingham College and Career Academy CEO Barbara Prosser. While a student at ECHS, LaVine designed the logo for Georgias college and career academies. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle issued a challenge Thursday to a group of education and business leaders from across the state assembled at the Effingham College and Career Academy.

“If Georgia is going to continue to be the capital of the South, we’ve got to make sure that we’re turning out the best workforce imaginable,” Cagle said. “It’s all falling on our shoulders. People are depending upon us — not just the business community, but kids as well.”

Cagle spoke at the third annual Lt. Governor’s Business and Education Summit. After Rome hosted the summit its first two years, Cagle brought it to coastal Georgia and the ECCA this year.

He credited the ECCA and Georgia’s 26 other college and career academies with being “the answer to not only higher graduation rates, but giving kids the skills that are necessary to compete in a 21st-century economy.”

“The goal is, by 2020, for every kid in Georgia to have access to a college and career academy,” Cagle said.

The Effingham College and Career Academy, for example, offers career pathways such as architecture, graphic design, culinary arts, healthcare science and logistics. Students are dual-enrolled at ECCA and one of the county’s two high schools.

Cagle acknowledged that “we’ve grown up in a society that says, to be successful, you need to go and get a liberal arts degree.” However, he said, education cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and college and career academies address the need for workers in high-paying trades such as welding and pipefitting.

“We’ve got welders today coming out of college and career academies who are making more money than lawyers coming out of the University of Georgia,” Cagle said. “That’s a reality. And that’s just one example.”

Cagle urged college and career academy leaders to “get busy recruiting” more students to take advantage of the opportunities their schools offer. He also emphasized the importance of partnering with businesses in the community.

“The business community wants to engage. They are yearning for this,” Cagle said. “They want you to come and ask, ‘How many internships can I get from you this year?’”

Effingham County was recognized for the collaboration among its education and business communities, as the ECCA received its designation as a Ford Next Generation Learning Community. More than 40 local leaders developed a five-year career, technical and agricultural education plan for Effingham County schools.

Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse echoed Cagle’s sentiment during a panel discussion on the role of effective public partners. He said input from businesses helps the school system equip students with the training and skills companies are seeking.

“I need to know what your needs are,” Shearouse said. “I need to know what you expect in our kids.”

Effingham County Industrial Development Authority CEO John Henry also sat on the panel, and said public/private partnerships are “absolutely necessary” in today’s world. He added that sending students into the workforce all with the same skill set is a thing of the past — “that puzzle doesn’t fit together anymore,” he said — and companies won’t hesitate to leave a community if a qualified workforce is no longer there.

“Companies can relocate — and they will relocate,” Henry said. “They look at their bottom line.”