Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler addressed the Long County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday at a breakfast meeting in Ludowici.
Butler said that one of his major goals was to change the perception of labor departments in the state.
“When most people think of the labor department, they think of the unemployment office,” Butler said. “I want to change that perception to where people think of it as the employment office … our focus is getting Georgians back to work.”
He said one of his department’s past stumbling blocks was not having good communication with the business community, especially in regards to the small “mom and pop” businesses. He also said that when he addresses groups such as the chamber, business owners constantly tell him they are having problems finding people willing to work due to the welfare system created by the government. With the current welfare system and with business owners only able to pay wage earners an entry level pay of around $9 per hour, Butler said many people would rather not work and collect unemployment than to work.
“Unemployment benefits are a good thing and needed to help some people. But they should only be a bridge to help people find a job … not be a lifestyle,” he said.
Butler also talked about “soft skills” like being respectful, dressing properly for work, arriving to work on time and not stealing from your employer.
“Unfortunately, soft skills are not being taught in the home, and it is becoming an economic development issue,” he said.
Butler said that one way that he has attempted to deal with this problem is by pushing for the Georgia Best certification program in the state. He said the program has minimal cost to school systems, but helps prepare students for the workforce by making them understand what employees expect from them.
Butler also said that all communities need to understand what they are and seek the type of businesses and industry appropriate for them.
“Go to your strengths, get what fits your community, know who you are and who you want to be,” he said.
Following Butler’s address, chamber Secretary Rita Deen said it is critical for Long County residents to shop at home and keep that money in the community.
“Keep it at home, support our local businesses. New businesses can’t stay open if you don’t support them,” Deen told the audience.
Also at the meeting:
• Bobby Strickland, founder of the “From the Pit to the Promise” foundation, told the chamber he was appreciative of its support, and that the goal of the organization was not just to help people, but to empower and strengthen the community.
• American Cancer Society community manager Sharon Proudfoot announced that the Long County Relay for Life would be May 17. She also said if any cancer patients from the community have needs, they should be directed to her.
• Long County High School teacher Jeremy Scott praised the high-school’s student-work program and encouraged local businesses to support it.