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September 9, 2014
From The Economist

What a shortage of workers on film sets in Georgia says about America

The recent arrival of aliens and murderous youth in suburban Atlanta might seem like cause for concern. But they are merely characters in films shot at the Atlanta Media Campus and Studios, the largest complex of its kind outside California. The lot has skilled labor in GAhosted the final two installments of “The Hunger Games” and “The Fifth Wave”, an upcoming science-fiction film. What ought to worry local residents is Georgia’s inability to produce workers who can build the sets, run the wires or manage the sound for such films. This skills shortage may endanger the $4 billion or so that Jim Jacoby, whose firm plans to redevelop the complex, reckons the film industry could bring to the state this year.

Georgia offers generous tax incentives to lure production companies. They can receive a credit for up to 30% of the costs incurred while making movies, as long as they spend more than $500,000. This convinced Mathew Hayden to move his firm, Cinipix, from California to Georgia. But Mr Hayden still imports many workers from Florida and New York. “It’s a big concern,” he says. The state’s movie business will only prove as profitable as its workers prove employable.

Georgia’s skills shortage goes beyond the film industry. For every four tradesmen that retire just one takes their place, even though the state’s unemployment rate hovers around 7.4%, over a point higher than the national rate. But a similar problem, albeit in less acute form, is in evidence across America. More than half of the country’s tradesmen are aged over 45. According to the Department of Labor, America will need 41,700 more cement masons, 114,700 more electricians and 218,200 more carpenters by 2022. The government already spends around $17 billion a year trying to close what the president, Barack Obama, calls the “skills gap”. On July 22nd Mr Obama signed laws that he said would make job-training programs that receive federal money “more effective, more responsive to employers and more accountable for results”.

One such program is Go Build Georgia, which teaches teenagers a trade. But efforts to train young people as plumbers or pipe-fitters run up against concern from parents. Instead of being proud to raise a future welder, “everyone wants to believe that their child will go to Harvard”, says Matthew Gambill, the director of the Georgia Association for Career and Technical Education. Despite the lower cost of a skills-based education and the solid job prospects, enrollment at technical colleges has dropped 23% since recession-stricken students clamored for entry in 2010.

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