Lt. Governor’s Education Platform Targets Construction Industry and Beyond
Georgia’s Lt. Governor Casey Cagle has defined his time in politics around a central theme: education.
In every speech, every focused dialogue and nearly every policy directive, Cagle emphasizes the importance of learning beyond the high school diploma. He explains, “Education is the great equalizer. No matter your background, the knowledge and skills gained through education benefit you, your community and the economy.”
Vital to the success of his education programs and policies is his partnership with educators, communities and businesses.
“So much can be accomplished by making young people aware of opportunities waiting in the workforce,” he explains. “We have to create learning paths for all our students; we must find a way to introduce and excite them about potential careers while in high school … and then clear the obstacles that might limit their abilities to achieve their goals.”
He believes the building and construction industry has to be an integral part of his education initiatives.
Cagle says, “The building and construction sector requires just about every skill set imaginable. From the carpenters, masons, drywall and other labor professions to the architects, surveyors, engineers, insurance brokers, lawyers, contractors, project managers and so on, construction is a microcosm of society. If we can build direct connections between the construction industry and our public education system, imagine the enduring workforce we will create?”
The Roots of a Trailblazer
Cagle was born in Gainesville, Ga., a predominantly rural community in Hall County. He’s quick to note that his childhood experiences shaped the man he is today. His father left him and his mother when he was just three years old. His mother worked multiple jobs to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
Cagle recalls, “I lived in trailers for most of my youth while my mom worked two jobs to make ends meet. We often had to move when she got those jobs. By the time I reached sixth grade, I had attended eight different elementary schools. We got through it all because of her hard work, persistence and love of God. I’m grateful for her sacrifices. It’s because of her that I learned that life is about service to others, not about self.”
Cagle earned a football scholarship to college, but when an injury ended his football dreams at the age of 20, he returned home to Gainesville and joined the workforce. Shortly thereafter, he bought a small tuxedo rental company and, over time, leveraged the profits from that business into real estate. As his real estate business grew, Cagle gained visibility as a business and community leader.
“My life experiences were varied and, at times, challenging as were the lives of my friends, family and neighbors,” he explains. “Our state struggles with double-digit poverty. Everybody longs for the ability to have a fulfilling life and hopes for a better future.”
So, he set out to enable Georgia’s students to achieve those dreams through public policy. In 1994, at age 28, Cagle was elected to the Georgia Senate as a representative from his home district on a platform to increase opportunity and prosperity. He subsequently spent 12 years in the Senate.
But he didn’t stop there. He explains, “I strongly believe that the way to create opportunities is through education because it provides the knowledge and skills we all need to become successful. I realized that I needed to be in a position to enact the policies that could positively transform our state.”
In 2006, he ran and was elected as the lieutenant governor of Georgia on a promise to improve education and opportunity. It’s a position he holds to this day, in large part because he’s keeping that promise.
He adds, “Education drives every economy. We simply can’t afford to have education disconnected from the workforce—that disconnect creates the skills gap that the construction industry currently faces.”
Cagle says, “The reality is that a vast percentage of today’s jobs are created by small businesses—and many of these jobs are not held by individuals with four-year degrees. However, most require some level of post-secondary education. That might be a technical apprenticeship, an associate degree or an industrial certification.”
With that in mind, Cagle launched the Georgia College and Career Academy Network, a partnership between local community leaders, school systems and Georgia’s technical colleges. The network gives students an opportunity to explore 20+ career fields including construction, engineering, biomedicine, technology, logistics, robotics and many more of the fields, leading economic growth in the global market.
“It’s a technical path for learning,” he says. “The goal is to add relevance to what we think of as a conventional education. We want young people to understand and connect their passions to a profession. Maybe they find that they work best with their hands or maybe with numbers or they’re born communicators. We have to expose students to many different options so they understand what their passion in life can be. We want them to see it, feel it and experience it in a real way—and to understand the way the dots connect to real jobs when they graduate.”
In 2016, Cagle advanced a more direct platform to address labor shortages by introducing the Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (GA CATT), the first-of-its-kind high school apprenticeship program in the U.S.
Cagle explains, “There’s something very special about having a unique skill. If you know that you can lay bricks, install sheetrock or weld, you can be employed anywhere in the world. That doesn’t mean you always have to do it, but it’s a skill that you will never lose.”
GA CATT is modeled after a similar program that has been highly successful in Germany. Through it, high school students from 10th grade and up have the opportunity to take traditional high school classes alongside college-level manufacturing courses and apprenticeship modules. By the 12th grade, students will spend 80 percent of their day learning at a manufacturing site, while earning $12/hour. By the time they graduate, they will have earned an associate degree in industrial mechanics and a German apprenticeship certificate along with their high school diploma.
Participating companies include Grenzebach, E.G.O. North America, Yamaha, Kason, Yokogawa, Winpak, KCMA Corporation and Groov-Pin. The companies work closely with the Coweta County School System and the Central Educational Center to develop a curriculum that is relevant to current and emerging employment needs. In turn, each company hosts student apprentices.
Cagle emphasizes, “The program builds a skilled labor workforce while motivating students and securing a professional career track for students at no additional cost for them or their families.”
Currently, students are enrolled in the industrial mechanics and automotive programs. By the end of its inaugural 2016-2017 year, 19 individuals will have gone through the GA CATT program—a number that is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years in Coweta County and other communities across Georgia.
Central Educational Center’s CEO Mark Whitlock is looking to grow the program. He says, “We’re very interested in partnering with construction industry firms as well. Each of the programs within GA CATT has begun because an industry reached out to the program and discussed the needs in the workforce. We can’t work effectively without the support and resources of each industry.”
Cagle agrees and adds, “Our state and our country must get back to a place where we celebrate all forms of work. There is dignity in all work. We must to build a mindset that every individual plays a critical role in society. Young people are our future workforce and our leaders. We need to do everything within our power to support Georgia’s future—and there is no better investment in that future than our young people. Through education, we can build self-sufficiency and ladders of opportunity that are within reach regardless of where each student begins.”