More than 100 community leaders joined forces recently at the Armstrong Center to launch Savannah Graduates, a new initiative designed to create a more educated workforce in Savannah-Chatham County.
Savannah Graduates is focused on increasing college completion and post-high school credentials in Chatham County through a special collaboration between area businesses, colleges, schools and organizations. The goal is to increase the percentage of the local workforce with post high-school credentials from 38 percent to 48 percent – or 85,000 individuals – by 2025. “We all have to work together to achieve this goal,” Armstrong president Linda M. Bleicken, a member of the Savannah Graduates executive team, told the audience. “We have to start now.”
According to a 2014 survey, one third of the local workforce is hired from outside Chatham County. In addition, half of area employers report they cannot find qualified job applicants in Chatham County.
Jeanne Keller Berdel, senior key strategy officer for Lumina Foundation, served as the keynote speaker at the Savannah Graduates launch. “This will be the first generation that is less educated than their parents,” she said, explaining that there is a direct link between education and poverty levels. “If you have folks who are educated and employed, they pay taxes and contribute to the economy. They are self-sufficient and their children are fed,” she explained. “People who are less educated are more dependent upon public assistance.”
The Lumina Foundation’s initiative, Community Partnership for Attainment (CPA), unites public and private partners to increase the percentage of Americans with postsecondary degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. Savannah is one of 75 U.S. communities selected for key funding, resources and tools to support strategic workforce development through postsecondary education.
“There are lots of community partners out there,” Berdel told the audience. “We want to help connect the dots. The resources are there, but it’s up to you on the local level to make it happen.”
Members of the Savannah Graduates executive council signed a charter at the event, pledging their support. In addition, local business and community leaders filled out “I Will” cards detailing how they can help create a more educated local workforce. “One college degree can change the lives of generations,” said Cathy Hill, Georgia Power’s vice president for the coastal region. “We have the opportunity to put Chatham County on that trajectory. It’s going to take all of us to make a difference.”