Wes Moss: How to fix Georgia’s unemployment rate

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Georgia’s unemployment rate is downright embarrassing right now.

With unemployment at 8.1% (according to August’s BLS data), Georgia has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. While there is a lot of finger-pointing happening right now, most of it politically charged, I think it’s best to focus on how to actually change this situation.

I recently hosted an event for Technology Association of Georgia Education Collaborative (TAG-Ed) focusing on STEM education. As the host of Atlanta Tech Edge, I have learned just how grave the skills gap is here in the state of Georgia; meaning that there are more open and unfilled technology jobs than there are qualified workers. In fact, in September there were actually almost 3,500 IT job openings just in Georgia.

According to TAG, about 83% of companies in Georgia plan to beef up their tech staff over the next five years, and over 71% plan to do this within the next year. The demand is so high that certain recruitment companies won’t even take on trying to find someone to fill these positions because they have such a hard time finding people with the necessary skills. For example, there has been such an explosion in mobility-enabled websites (think the internet on your phone) in the last several years that very few people even within technology possess the required skills to do the job.

So there are two problems: high unemployment and plenty of open jobs without skilled workers to fill them. The missing ingredient here is the proper education for individuals to function in a rapidly evolving technology industry.

Many of the skills in demand today in the technology industry weren’t even being taught in college five or ten years ago. On top of that, when you were in college, it’s not unlikely that you thought that your history degree would carry you to greatness. Now we’re in a time when skills are as important if not more important than degrees, but not enough people have those skills.

Here’s the good news for you: there are actually several programs in Atlanta now where you can go to learn the basic skills that would help fill many of these technical positions in as little as two months. They cost anywhere from around $4,000 to $12,000. That’s right; you can walk away with a hirable skill set in what would otherwise be the cost and time of going to a traditional university for one semester. On top of that, many of these programs also offer financial assistance or scholarships. If you’re willing to find a way to make it work financially, this seems like a no brainer if you’re currently unemployed.

General Assembly is one such group that helps people quickly learn and walk away from their program with a “portfolio”. This allows graduates the opportunity to immediately find work. What’s equally important with this group is that they have a strong network in Atlanta, and have a 95% job placement rate for their students. Some other groups that offer similar programs include The Iron Yard based out of Atlanta Tech Village, and Tech Talent South which is located in Tech Square. These groups offer full immersion or part-time programs to get you started in the industry.

General Assembly allows you to look through their profiles of alumni who are currently looking for employment. I found alums in states outside of Georgia looking for work, but it’s interesting to note that no one was on the list from Georgia. That’s good sign when it comes to employment here, but also reiterates the “skills gap” that exists in our state. Ramping up our technology skills isn’t the only answer to helping the unemployment problem here in Georgia, but it is clearly one step in the right direction that would help get us off the bottom rung of the state unemployment ladder.

Certified financial planner Wes Moss offers financial and accessible investment advice to Atlanta Bargain Hunter readers.

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