Education Government

First Lady Jill Biden’s visit highlights Augusta as America Workforce Hub city

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden tried her hand at a new skill Tuesday as she learned how to solder during a middle school manufacturing camp at Augusta Technical College. From there, she met two students at the college who showed her a manufacturing process and conveyed the high-earning potential their two-year degree could yield.

“I’ve heard through the grapevine that once Reactors 3 and 4 come online, it would be between $40 and $50 an hour. That seemed pretty good to me,” said Dustin Phillips, a Marine Corps veteran who will be working at Plant Vogtle after he graduates from Augusta Tech in August.

Biden, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk, made a brief stop in Augusta to highlight the American Workforce Hub initiative.

Jermaine Whirl, Augusta Technical College president (standing), watches as First Lady Jill Biden learns to solder. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

The White House announced in May that Augusta had been selected as one of five cities in the nation as a hub. The other cities are Phoenix, Ariz., Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

These are cities where legislation passed by President Biden, including the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, “is catalyzing private and public investments and creating good-paying jobs,” according to a White House press release.

“Through this initiative, we’re focusing on key cities that have received significant investment from both the federal government and private companies,” she said in addressing the capacity crowd at the Jack B. Patrick Information Technology Center Auditorium at Augusta Tech.

“Here, that means growing clean energy industries, building the facilities to manufacture the batteries powering our future. But in order to keep this progress, employers need more skilled workers. So, the Biden-Harris Administration is working with local leaders, college and public school, unions and employers to develop new training pathways.”   

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The Augusta Workforce Hub brings together several entities including Augusta Tech, Aiken Technical College and Richmond County Public schools and focuses on training students in advanced manufacturing, including construction trades and battery manufacturing.

Augusta Tech president Jermaine Whirl highlighted the recent allocation of state funds toward a new Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology Training facility in Columbia County and a $1 million pledge toward the program.

Cardona said technical colleges play a vital role in training America’s workforce.

“Within the next four years, more than 70% of jobs will require some post-secondary education” he said. “It’s why we’re encouraging states to create more registered apprenticeships so people can earn while they learn…We’re working to end the stigma around career technical and agricultural education, recognizing it as the leading edge of education and supercharging it.”

Jill Biden speaks at Augusta Technical College July 18. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

The hub initiative is part of President Joe Biden’s Investing in America agenda to create jobs and opportunities in Augusta and across the region.

Solvay Specialty Polymers is investing millions in battery components at its Augusta plant. In October, 2022, it was announced it would receive $178 million from the Department of Energy to build a new battery plant, bringing 500 construction jobs and 100 manufacturing jobs to Richmond County.

The facility has the potential to supply materials for more than 5 million EV batteries per year, according to a news release from the White House. Also, $5.3 billion in federal funding has already been announced for over 295 infrastructure projects across Georgia. 

Cardona said that a “tsunami” of well-paying jobs is on its way.

But those jobs represent more than just a paycheck, said Jill Biden.

 “A job is a lot more than a paycheck. It’s a pathway. It’s a way to build the lives we want, and everyone, no matter where they live, deserves the chance to do just that,” she said.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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