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Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth announces ‘transformative’ workforce development plan

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth announced on Tuesday a new workforce development plan that he argued would transform the way Alabamians are recruited and trained to join the workforce.

“Alabama is the workforce engine of the southeast, and our goal is to continue to make sure our students are trained to meet the demands of the jobs that are here and are going to continue to come here,” Ainsworth said during a press conference at the State House.

“I hear over and over again, the No. 1 limiting factor to business growth is people, and so we want to solve that as elected leaders.”

The plan includes the consolidation of unaligned and duplicative workforce development agencies, expanding business tax credits for those who  reduce barriers to employment and the creation of a new cabinet-level position to oversee all things related to workforce development.

Ainsworth likened the new workforce development plan to last year’s series of economic incentive bills, collectively known as the “Game Plan,” and said that he expected a significant number of the recommendations to be introduced as bills on the first day of the 2024 legislative session, Feb. 6.

Under the plan, existing workforce development agencies such as the Department of Commerce’s Workforce Development Division, Alabama Industrial Development Training and the Department of Labor would all be merged into a new entity known as the Alabama Workforce Authority, which would be overseen by a Secretary of Workforce Development.

“Currently, there are dozens of programs in Alabama with the purpose of addressing workforce development needs, but we’ve got to streamline Alabama’s workforce development system under one cabinet-level secretary who will lead the new Alabama Workforce Authority,” Ainsworth continued.

“The job of this new secretary, which will serve at the pleasure of the governor, will be to understand (employer) needs, but to also work with them to find out how they can make sure students get trained for a 21st century economy.”

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth announces a sweeping reform of Alabama’s workforce development initiatives during a press conference in Montgomery.

While Alabama’s unemployment rate remains among the lowest in the country at 2.6%, the state’s labor participation rate is also among the lowest in the country at 57.2%, something state leaders have been working to improve.

Multiple state efforts have been launched to identify the root causes for the state’s low labor participation rate, and barriers to employment such as child care costs, transportation and housing have been among the most common findings.

To address those barriers, the workforce development plan also includes recommendations to establish new tax credits to incentivize businesses to provide on-site childcare or childcare stipends to employees, to offer mental health and addiction diversion programs, and to construct and refurbish workforce housing units.

Another major pillar of the plan, Ainsworth said, is to target Alabamians who don’t pursue higher education for workforce recruitment and training by establishing a new program dubbed the Alabama Workforce Pathways Diploma. Under the program, resources for high school students to participate in career and technical education would be expanded through constructing, retrofitting and upgrading CTE centers in all 67 Alabama counties.

“You look in Alabama, we have close to 50% of our students that end up not getting a two- or four-year degree,” Ainsworth said.

“We’ve really got to make sure that we offer those students a different path, that’s what this diploma will do, and we’re calling it a Workforce Pathway Diploma, and it’s going to allow students to develop these schools while in high school.”

An extension of the Workforce Pathway Diploma would be the creation of the Alabama Workforce Pathways program, a successor to the Alabama Short-term Credential Program established in 2023 that would provide grants of up to $4,500 to the Alabama Community College System for providing direct pathways to employment for eligible students. Under the proposal, that program would have its annual funding increased from $200,000 to $20 million.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, who worked closely with Ainsworth on the development of the new plan, said his next job will be to educate lawmakers on the plan’s details, while also making a case for why the recommendations should be introduced and supported during the upcoming legislative session.

“I couldn’t be more excited about it, I’m looking forward to opportunities to shepherd this process through a legislative path, and that will be part of the job that I’m going to try and continue to be engaged in,” Reed said. 

“I’ll be looking forward to putting my hand to the plow with this group to be able to have great outcomes moving forward.”

Alabama Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed speaks during a workforce development press conference in Montgomery.

The plan was the result of years’ worth of research by the Lt. Gov.’s Commission on 21st Century Workforce, established in 2019. Rep. Danny Garrett, a member of that commission, noted the importance of targeting the state’s low labor participation rate, calling it the “number-one issue facing Alabama’s economy today.”

“We need to shift and broaden our focus from simply training a workforce, to recruiting, training and employing skilled workers,” Garrett, R-Trussville, said. “Our workforce development system must innovate if we want to provide opportunities for more workers and give all Alabamians a pathway to good jobs.”

Following the press conference, Ainsworth told Alabama Daily News that of all the commission’s recommendations, the creation of a new Secretary of Workforce Development may be the most significant, and would allow for workforce development initiatives to operate more cohesively.

“To me, it just makes sense to have somebody that’s an expert in workforce and that knows what’s going on in all the different silos; we’ve got people in community college, they know community colleges well, but they might know what the Department of Labor’s doing, or what AIDT (is doing), and so we need somebody that understands the whole picture,” Ainsworth said. 

Were lawmakers to adopt the recommendation to create the new role, the secretary of Workforce Development would be chosen by Gov. Kay Ivey from a pool of candidates selected by the nine-member Alabama Workforce Development Authority Board.


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