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New nonprofit hopes to remove workforce barriers, create paths for success

The Paths for Success Foundation, a new Alabama nonprofit, wants to bridge the state’s employment gap by providing resources to help pay for skills training, credentials and certifications that will lead to gainful employment. It also wants to help remove barriers to those pathways, including lack of transportation or childcare. 

But first, it needs to undertake a significant fundraising campaign.

“We are a statewide foundation with a statewide mission,” said Patty Hughston, executive director of the foundation. “We focus on short-term, fast-track and in-demand training, and breaking down barriers that prohibit individuals from getting into the workforce where they can make a livable wage.”

Prior to becoming a standalone organization in February, the foundation had previously been within the Alabama Community College System and had limited focus and success.

Foundation leaders say education and job training programs can open whole new worlds of opportunity for a better future. For many, however, challenging life circumstances make enrolling in or completing education and training programs difficult or impossible.

As of December 2022, Alabama’s unemployment rate is 2.8%, while the state’s labor force participation rate was 56.8%. The labor force participation rate is the proportion of the working-age population that is either working or actively looking for work.

“We have 43% of Alabamians on the sidelines of the workforce,” foundation chairman Neal Wade said. “Some of those people are doing it by choice, but others have barriers prohibiting them from going to work.”

Earlier this year, the Alabama Survey of the Unemployed and Underemployed revealed that 31% of job seekers cited a lack of transportation as their primary reason for being either unemployed or underemployed this past year.

Other barriers included childcare, health issues and the cost of additional job training or certification programs. 

“We’re going to focus on individuals with these barriers and try to go after them and say, ‘If you really want to get a certificate or if you want to learn a skill, we want to help remove the barrier that you have so that you can get that training,'” Wade said. “Then we can take down some of these ‘help wanted’ signs all over the state.”

Wade is a career economic developer who for years ran state’s industrial recruitment efforts as director of the Alabama Development Office, now called the Department of Commerce. He now helps train economic development professionals in Alabama and across the country.

He said the first step for the Paths to Success Foundation 501(c)(3) is fundraising — their original goal is $10 million by 2025. 

“If we go out and offer this help to Alabamians, we have to deliver,” Wade said. 

The foundation recently conducted a feasibility study to determine the likelihood of reaching its goal and the state’s workforce needs. Along with the foundation’s board of directors, which includes influential Alabama business leaders, the study was sent to CEOs and presidents of companies like Toyota, Airbus, Mercedes and Alabama Power.

“When you look at our board, you see individuals who represent companies that need workers,” Wade said. “We have input from the top leaders of organizations like Manufacture Alabama and the Business Council of Alabama, which gives us entry into companies across the state.”

Along with grant writing, the foundation hopes to jumpstart its fundraising efforts during The Alabama Community College System Diamond Jubilee. Proceeds from the Diamond Jubilee Golf Scramble and the Diamond Jubilee Gala go entirely toward supporting students through the Paths for Success Foundation as the ACCS celebrates 60 years.

“We’re not looking just for manufacturers or just the health care community to help us raise money; we’re looking for all communities around the state to help us in these efforts,” Hughston said. “Once we have the funds, we can give the resources to the people of Alabama. 

“Soon, it will benefit every company and community.”

Once the foundation is monetarily ready to provide resources to Alabamians, an application process will be available for qualified applicants to complete. The foundation wants to reach people who are not already receiving other assistance, including federal Pell Grants.

“The main reason to have an application process and a screening process is to ensure equity,” Hughston said. “We don’t want to fund individuals eligible for other funding sources, and we don’t want to help individuals whose families are fluid enough to pay for it; we are here to help people unable to better themselves without this funding.” 

The foundation does not yet have a timeline to begin accepting applications but hopes to move forward after fundraising begins. It could begin awarding money before it reaches its $10 million fundraising goal. 

“We have to plan this foundation and organize this foundation in a seamless fashion, and that’s something that can’t be done quickly, and it can’t be done overnight,” Hughston said. “Regardless, we cannot help until the fundraising happens at a certain level that allows us to go out there and help individuals across the state.”

To learn more, visit the Paths for Success Foundation website.

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