Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler told those attending the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce’s booster lunch on Friday that both the state and Gordon County currently employ more people than at any other time in history.
“Your job growth is actually outpacing the state rate by nearly a full percentage point,” said Butler, who was the speaker during the chamber event at Georgia Northwestern Technical College. “Your economy is doing great.”
Butler said that Gordon County added about 600 jobs to the workforce over the past 12 months and that there are about 500 jobs listed online as being available right now. He also pointed out that because between 30 and 40% percent of job listings are never put online, that 500 number is likely lower than what is actually available right now.
Butler has been the state’s labor commissioner since 2011 and was a member of the Georgia House of Representatives between 2003 and 2011. One of his primary projects as labor commissioner has been the introduction of the GeorgiaBEST program, which led to the creation of the GeorgiaBEST@School, GeorgiaBEST@Home and GeorgiaBEST@Work programs.
BEST stands for Business Employability Skills Training, and the curriculum programs focus on teaching students and adults “soft skills,” such as the importance of punctuality, dressing appropriately, working in teams, communication, attitude and more.
“It’s the No. 1 reason people can’t find a job and the No. 1 reason people leave a job,” Butler said about a lack of soft skills.
To emphasis the point Butler asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they had ever had someone show up for a job interview wearing sleepwear. The crowd chuckled, but hands went up. He also asked people to raise a hand if they had ever hired someone only for them to never show up to the job. Again, hands went up.
“It’s what my grandfather called common sense skills,” said Butler. “He would say, I can teach a man to hammer a nail, but I can’t teach common sense.”
Butler, however, said that he knows soft skills can be taught, and he’s seen the program experience a wealth of success since its inception in both schools and work environments.
He pointed out that in June Georgia had the lowest number of people applying for employment since 1978, about 15,000 claims filed from a workforce of more than 5 million people. He said the state has been turning out quality workers just as quickly as it has been creating jobs.
Butler also told the crowd that unemployment numbers don’t have as much meaning now as they used to, and that it’s more important to look at the number of people actually looking for work and the number of people actually working. As example, he described how The Masters golf tournament creates about 4,000 jobs every year, but then those 4,000 jobs go away when the event is over.
Without context, he said, that number would be alarming.
That’s why his focus has been on improving the workforce by working to make sure people have the soft skills they need to find and keep a job. Butler said he believes everyone is employable, even if they might need a little training first.