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Lack of skills is hurting economy, labor chief says

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told Thomson Rotarians last week that many job applicants lack the soft skills to apply for employment.

"I know it's not our job to raise somebody else's children, but this is becoming an economic-development problem," Butler said.

Job-seekers must know how to dress and conduct themselves during applications and interviews, he said. Some applicants ignore the basics, such as not chewing gum during an interview.

Butler said the soft skills test is just the latest tool in preparing the workforce to attract and retain industry.

He said the state's appeal to employers depends on education on the K-12 level and on the college level. Georgia has a shortage of trained welders, high-tech machinists and other specialties, he said.

The state must compete with business incentives and must offer good industrial locations, he said, but he added, "Our biggest need we have right now is workforce."

Butler took office as Georgia's ninth commissioner of labor on Jan. 10. He said some leaders have allowed politics and egos to get in the way of an economic development plan.

"Georgia is kind of at a crossroads right now in terms of economic development," he said.

He said the unemployment benefit is sometimes too close to the wages of available jobs and removes the incentive to work. He said unemployment has grown into a social program.

"The constant extensions are doing us more harm," he said.

He said he brought "a new style, a new way of doing business" to the agency. Butler said he is asking local offices what they need to do their jobs better. For instance, the Thomson staff needs a bigger office, he said.

He also said Georgia must remain a right-to-work state to attract industry,

Butler said Georgia is making progress.

"We're actually seeing some jobs created, which is the first time since 2007," he said.

Michael Boardman, the manager of the agency's McDuffie County office, provided information showing that the local unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in April. There were 225 initial claims for unemployment benefits in April and 1,130 total claims in January through April.

Warren County had a 15.4 percent unemployment rate, with 79 new claims in April. Richmond County had a 9.3 percent rate, with 1,072 claims in April. Columbia County had a 6.7 percent unemployment rate, with 397 new claims in April.

Web posted on Thursday, June 02, 2011

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