Mark Butler, Georgia Commissioner of Labor, was guest speaker at last week’s meeting of the Americus Kiwanis Club.
Butler, of Carrollton, has been in the office for almost two years and having worked in and managed his family’s business prior to that as well as serving in the Georgia House of Representatives, said he has an understanding of labor in Georgia from many perspectives.
“The true job of the Department of Labor,” he told the Kiwanis Club, “is employment. Our motto is Employ Georgia.”
During his first year in office, Butler said he learned to listen more. He created 13 regional coordinators in order to communicate better to with citizens and work with regional and local organizations.
When he first took office in January 2011, Butler said unemployment was at 10.4 percent in Georgia yet he found many businesses that were hiring.
“The bad news is that businesses can’t find qualified people. There is a lack of skilled labor,” he said, adding that this problem is prevalent all over the nation. “We have a good university system and technical college system, but there is a lack of soft skills in job applicants.”
These soft skills are common sense issues such as being on time, dressing appropriately, creating a professional resume, etc.
To address this problem, Butler implemented a program called Georgia Best which is the only program of its type in the nation, that teaches business ethics. The program was piloted in 27 schools with tremendous feedback, he said, from schools and communities.
“It is based on behavior and appearance at school,” he said, and mock interviews are conducted as a teaching tool.
“Since its inception the program has expanded from 27 to over 127 pilot schools and it costs about nothing,” Butler said, “just the cost of printing certificates.”
Butler said the number one economic development issue in Georgia is the talent of the workforce.
He mentioned a recent visit to Dalton, which is suffering high unemployment numbers. He said they returned 30 days later with a Job Readiness Expo and had 86 employers looking to hire.
“Our number one priority is veterans,” Butler said. “We will have over 80,000 retiring veterans in Georgia in the next two to three years. We owe them a job.”
Butler said a major responsibility of the Labor Department is to make sure people who qualify receive their unemployment insurance benefits but also to make certain everything is legal, and that people who do not deserve the benefits do not receive them.
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