When it comes to how educated the workforce is compared to how educated it needs to be to fit the local job market, the Augusta metro area ranks in the bottom five cities of a study from a Washington, D.C., think tank.
Augusta’s education gap was rated at 8.5 percent, according to the Brookings Institution study. The education gap index is calculated as the years of education required by the average job vacancy in a metro area divided by the years of education attained by the average working-age person. According to the study, areas with a higher education gap typically have higher unemployment rates by two percentage points. This is the first time Brookings has done this study.
“Narrowing the education gap is particularly important for improving the long-term health of metropolitan economies,” said Jonathan Rothwell, the author of the Brookings report. “Metro areas with wide education gaps have higher unemployment, but metro areas with narrow education gaps have lower unemployment, more job creation and more job openings.”
The area with the lowest education gap was Madison, Wis., meaning there are more qualified people than there are jobs. Other cities at the top were Honolulu, Hawaii, Raleigh, N.C., Provo, Utah and Washington.
Cities in the bottom five are Augusta, Houston, Texas, Riverside, Calif., Stockton, Calif. and Lakeland, Fla.
For Augusta, 42.6 percent of current job openings require a bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 24.5 percent of all potential workers have those qualifications, Brookings data showed.
The most evenly matched supply and demand is for associate’s degree or some college, with 32.6 percent of current job openings requiring that education level and 29.7 percent of all potential workers having it.
Supply exceeds demand for jobs requiring a high school diploma or less education, with 45.8 percent of the workforce having that but only 24.7 of current job listings needing it.
Rothwell said the short-term crisis of filling the positions is much less serious than the long-term problem of creating enough jobs in general, especially for job seekers with a high school diploma. The short-term answer, he said, is to either educate existing members of the workforce or bring in more qualified workers from other areas. The long-term answer is to create a more sustainable balance between education and the job market.
“It’s a huge, long-term challenge,” he said.
Terry Elam, the president of Augusta Technical College and a board member for the Economic Development Authority of Richmond County, said he believes the solution lies in tailoring education to the market.
“Aligning the education system and the job market is probably the most important thing we could do right now,” he said.
Augusta Tech was ranked 11th out of 40 in 2012 for graduation rates at two-year schools in Georgia, and Elam said their success in that and job placement is due to the fact that two-year and technical schools tend to focus on training for specific occupations.
“We listen to the people who hire,” he said. “These schools are pumping people into the job market.”
Another issue that schools such as Augusta State University or Georgia Health Sciences University face, he said, is that they have many students coming from other cities to study. After they graduate, they leave the area.
“Having a high graduation rate still isn’t the answer. How do we educate and then keep students?” he said.