Representatives of the colleges that are supposed to be working on DeKalb County’s billion-dollar job stimulus plan don’t know much about it.
In late March, a DeKalb official told a Board of Commissioners committee that the county is working with DeVry Institute, Georgia Perimeter College and Georgia Piedmont Technical College to prepare residents for the estimated 4,000 jobs that will be created to fix the county’s aging watershed system.
“Currently…DeKalb county residents [are] being trained at DeVry [and] Georgia Perimeter [for jobs] such as pipefitter,” Kelvin Walton, director of the county’s purchasing and contracting department, told commissioners March 29.
Representatives from Georgia Piedmont Technical College say they are “not exactly clear” what the college’s role will be in One DeKalb Works, the job stimulus plan announced by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis in November 2011.
“We’ve been asked to partner with them,” said Cory Thompson, the college’s public relations and information director.
But that is all the college knows, he said, about One DeKalb Works until a meeting with county officials this week to hammer out the details about the relationship between the two entities.
Richard Smith, the vice president of economic development at Georgia Piedmont, said the college has a “longstanding relationship” with DeKalb County government and has worked with the watershed department to train employees.
But no training for the watershed capital improvement project has started, Smith said.
“We haven’t received all of the particulars about the project yet,” Smith said. “We are waiting to hear from the county about when this is going to start. We haven’t been contacted as for as training yet.”
While the county is expected to issue a request for proposals for a program management team this month, Smith said there are many unknowns.
“I think the county has identified the different jobs,” Smith said. “I think DeKalb Workforce Development is going to be the manager on that. The school may be a subcontractor. I don’t know how that works yet. I don’t know how that sequence is going to fall out yet.”
DeKalb Workforce Development is a county division that provides education, training and employment programs for job seekers and workforce development services to businesses. Qualified county residents go through the division and can be approved to attend various colleges for a career development.
Smith said that once the planning is complete, it would take a week to get the customized program implemented.
“We can turn it around pretty quick,” Smith said.
In just four weeks, a person can receive a certification for operating heavy equipment or get training for a commercial drivers’ license, Smith said. The school can also train workers to operate bulldozers, backhoes and excavation equipment.
“You can go from zero to operator in one month,” Smith said. “Within a month people are going to be ready to work.”
Sheryl Chapman, director of DeKalb Workforce Development, said Georgia Piedmont is training people for the watershed project but may not realize it.
“In preparation for the capital improvement project (CIP), people have been trained,” Chapman said. “People are currently being trained.
“We train people for the CIP as well as for any other employee,” Chapman said. “When we send people more than [to Georgia Piedmont], we don’t say ‘this is only for the CIP.’”
Chapman said the county’s First Source registry, a database of qualified residents available to work on county contracts, has more than 1,300 DeKalb residents with skills that could be used in the watershed project.
“We have people that are unemployed or underemployed who are ready to go to work now,” she said.
Georgia Perimeter, another college mentioned in a commissioners’ meeting but not in the One DeKalb Works brochure, is not equipped to train the kind of workers needed for the watershed project, said Wallace Weihe, director of the Center for Organizational Development at Georgia Perimeter.
“How are we involved?” Weihe asked. “It’s not a fit for the college. We don’t do anything in the blue collar arena.
“One DeKalb Works is really something we’re not too involved with,” Weihe said.
Georgia Perimeter works with DeKalb Workforce Development, but the college’s program is for “out-of-work white-collar people,” Weihe said.
Chapman said Georgia Perimeter has not been approached to be an active One DeKalb Works partner, but her division is not limited to its main partners.
“We’ll use any school that can train our citizens,” Chapman said. “We’ve opened this up to any of the schools…as long as it is a legitimate program.”
Because of the scope of the watershed project, contractors may need additional people with office automation and management, business and administrative skills, Chapman said. These skills could be learned at Georgia Perimeter, she said.
Commissioner Stan Watson said his fellow commissioners want to know the effectiveness of One DeKalb Works.
“We need to know the number of [people] that have been trained,” Watson said. “Who have we trained? How many of them have a hammer ready to go?”
Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton has also asked the administration for specifics about One DeKalb Works and the training that has occurred.
“I need to know what’s coming down the pipe in terms of employment,” Sutton said.
Sutton said One DeKalb Works “is just a publicity thing.”
“One DeKalb Works is not a department,” Sutton said. “It’s just a slogan created by the administration. In reality, these jobs are coming because of our federally mandated consent decree. Is there some substance and not just words?”
Chapman said One DeKalb Works is Ellis’ “holistic” plan for addressing the employment needs of DeKalb residents.
“That is the name of the CIP,” Chapman said. “This is similar to a stimulus program for DeKalb.
“DeKalb residents will be working in their home area,” Chapman said. “It’s a win-win.”
Through One DeKalb Works, the county is “actively working and preparing DeKalb residents for the CIP,” Chapman said. “We are ready and prepared for the CIP.”