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Neal Wade: Paths for Success Foundation to break down workforce barriers

By Neal Wade

In September of 2022, Alabama’s unemployment rate was 2.6%. While a low unemployment rate is positive, Alabama’s October 2022 Labor Force Participation Rate was at 57.4%.

The Labor Force Participation Rate is a measure of our state economy’s active workforce that indicates the percentage of all people of working age (16-65) who are employed or actively seeking employment. Why is this important? Simply put because Alabama has the 5th lowest Labor Force Participation Rate in the nation.

Alabama’s workforce shortage is disastrous, not only for businesses and industries that cannot find qualified workers, but also to consumers since a lack of qualified workers contributes to supply chain woes and fuels inflation.

Most jobs today require some skills training and education beyond high school. Many Alabamians face challenging life circumstances such as lack of reliable transportation, affordable and safe childcare, or financial strains which make it difficult to enroll in or complete education and training programs. 

According to a 2023 survey conducted by Cygnal, an award-winning international polling, public opinion, and predictive analytics firm, 60% of employers use non-degree credentials to validate an applicant’s job experience. 74% of employers prefer applicants with non-degree credentials over all other applicants and 87% of manufacturing employers say they somewhat prefer a candidate with a non-degree credential or certificate. 

For the employee, 43% with credentials receive at least a 25% wage premium over their non-credentialed counterparts. Additionally, employees with credentials and certifications have significantly higher opportunities for advancement according to 65% of HR decision makers.

Perhaps because I’ve spent nearly three decades working in Economic Development, including eight years as the State of Alabama’s Chief Economic Development Officer, I’ve witnessed how a trained workforce can transform a state.

So, how do we address the workforce shortage and help Alabamians gain skills that will lead to jobs that provide a living wage? One way is through the Paths for Success Foundation

The foundation, a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is designed to assist Alabama citizens in obtaining skills, credentials, and/or certifications that lead to gainful employment. In addition, the foundation will provide opportunities by helping to eliminate barriers that impact an individual’s ability to participate in the workforce. 

As chairman of the board, I see the value in assisting Alabamians who are experiencing difficulty in achieving upward mobility. The foundation, once in full operation, will work with statewide partners to execute strategies that remove practical barriers to education and training. The result, more Alabama businesses and industries will be able to find qualified workers and our citizens will reap the rewards of starting a career and earning a good living.


Neal Wade is the Chairman of the Paths for Success Foundation Board of Directors. He is a career economic developer, who is currently is Managing Partner for the Advanced Economic Development Leadership Program. He previously served as Director of the Economic Development Academy at the University of Alabama, Chairman of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, and Director of the Alabama Development Office (now the Department of Commerce).

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