“Everyone told me, ‘If you’re smart, you should be a doctor or a lawyer,” Culbreath said.
That’s until she was introduced to the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science program at Georgia Tech. The program changed everything for Culbreath, who now works for Duracell in LaGrange.
That initial exposure “really prepared me to fall in love with manufacturing,” said Culbreath, who describes the industry as one with room – abundant room – for problem solvers, issue-driven thinkers, and students who, like her, love science and math.
Now Culbreath works in human resources – and she sees, over and over, the results of a culture that tells kids not to pursue a career in manufacturing.
“We need a qualified workforce,” she said. “We just don’t have enough qualified people.”
Culbreath made those comments at a Manufacturing Day hosted by the Georgia Department of Education for school counselors. The event brought 48 elementary, middle, and high school counselors together with higher education and manufacturing-industry representatives at Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, a 650-acre Troup County facility that manufactures up to 360,000 vehicles per year.
The idea was to address misconceptions about the manufacturing industry, and make sure counselors were equipped with information about opportunities in that sector.
In Georgia, 370,000 people are employed in manufacturing, at an average total compensation of $67,365. But the industry is facing a skills gap that could leave two million jobs unfilled over the next decade.
“Many people think manufacturing today is just like it was years ago – and that’s not the case,” said Dr. Barbara Wall, GaDOE’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education Director. “This was an opportunity for these counselors to see what manufacturing is like today and bring back that information to their students.”
Torri Jackson, a school counselor with the Liberty County School System and current president of the Georgia School Counselor Association, said school counselors are uniquely positioned to connect students with opportunities for future success.
“School counselors are dedicated lifelong learners by nature, and we do this because it is imperative that we get information out to our students – not just information on academics and social-emotional learning, but specific information on the different, endless opportunities that are available [to them],” she said. “We are excited about the manufacturing opportunities in the state of Georgia, and we understand that our students are our best resource…we will do whatever it takes to make sure they are successful.”
The school counselors in attendance for Manufacturing Day heard from representatives of KMMG, Shaw Industries, Caterpillar, Interface, Powertech, and Duracell, along with Coweta County’s German Apprenticeship Program, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, the Technical College System of Georgia, Kennesaw State University, and Georgia Southern University.
One of those speakers – Brian Cooksey of Shaw Industries – described manufacturing as a field students can move into with low-to-no student debt, especially when paired with dual enrollment through Move On When Ready. It’s an ideal industry, he said, for “problem solvers, creative thinkers, innovators, collaborators, team players, leaders, and multi-taskers.”
“Here in the state of Georgia, we have over 370,000 people who work in manufacturing every day,” Cooksey said. “As I mentioned, Shaw has 14,000 of those here in Georgia. In Northwest Georgia alone, we have 68,000 people who work in manufacturing – making flooring, making chemicals, making automobiles and parts and things that supply those industries. There are a lot of jobs, so when people say manufacturing doesn’t exist anymore, or it’s dying or it’s going away – it’s simply not true.”
Throughout the day, school counselors were equipped with resources that will help them share information about the manufacturing industry with their students and help them understand the opportunities it holds. They left with everything from interview advice for their students to information on relevant programs at Georgia’s technical colleges and universities.
It all took place against the backdrop of Kia’s massive Georgia manufacturing plant, a $1.1 billion investment that began production in November 2009. Out on the floor, which each school counselor in attendance got to tour, the human impact of manufacturing was clear.
Because amid all of it – a huge space, sprawling but neat and immaculately color-coded, with sparks flying and weight pressing and pieces of car traveling past – were people. All those layers and layers of activity, full of men and women doing meaningful work.
The Manufacturing Day program was a partnership between the Georgia Department of Education’s CTAE division, KMMG, the Georgia Association of Manufacturers, and other higher education and business/industry representatives.
It’s these meaningful workforce partnerships that are necessary to connect Georgia’s students to career opportunities – to the benefit of students, businesses, and the overall economic health of the state.
That’s something that’s beginning to happen already, according to Corinne Hodges, a KMMG representative who spoke at the event.
“We have seen a major shift,” Hodges said, “in the mindset of education to work with industry.”
As Manufacturing Day ended, the counselors in attendance were tasked with bringing the information they’d received back to their communities, colleagues, and students and, if possible, pairing with business and industry partners to make that happen.
All of it serves a single purpose: connecting the 1.7 million students in Georgia’s K-12 public schools with opportunities that can help them build a bright future.
And that, after all, is what school counselors do best.
National Educational Initiative: “I Am Manufacturing”
Resources for Educators