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Report: State needs to ‘change narrative’ to workforce participation

Alabama is about halfway to the goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the state’s labor force by 2025.

Set in 2018 by Gov. Kay Ivey, the goal was hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also highlighted the need for a bigger, trained workforce. 

The Alabama Workforce Council recently gave Ivey its annual report on progress made and recommendations for continuing to grow the labor force participation rate that in November was 57.1%.

“Our state will not reach its goals with nearly half of its working-age people on the sidelines. Alabama must, and can, do better, but it will require realignment of Alabama’s public workforce system to make it more effective and efficient,” the report says. “We must address postsecondary attainment and labor force participation together. Economic growth is booming in areas across Alabama with the highest levels of attainment and labor force participation. In the counties with a low LFPR, there is also limited postsecondary attainment and economic growth.”

A one-percentage-point increase in LFPR represents about 23,000 more people in the labor force. Increasing Alabama’s LFPR to the national average of 62.8% would add 131,100 workers to the labor force.

The recommendations to Ivey and lawmakers include “changing the narrative” on workforce development to focus less on the state’s unemployment rate – it’s been low for years – and instead focus on the participation rate.

“Focus on solutions that are working to increase the labor force participation rate, such as skills-based hiring, competency-based education, fostering a talent system based on skills, and providing access to supportive services such as childcare and transportation,” the report said.

The council also recommended consolidating it and the State Workforce Development Board to form the Alabama Workforce Development Board and merge seven Regional Workforce Councils and local Workforce Development Boards to form seven local Workforce Development Boards.

It also suggested designating a single state agency as the state’s workforce agency.

The recommendations are similar to a workforce development plan Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth outlined last month. Legislation related to those proposals is expected in the legislative session that starts next month. 

Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Workforce Development and AIDT Executive Director, Ed Castile noted the AWC’s recommendations are “just the beginning of a more unified workforce development strategy for Alabama.” 

Alabama is currently “just over halfway” to meeting the goal of 500,000 credential workers, according to Jerry Weisenfeld, Communication Coordinator of the AWC. 

“While 2023 marked the culmination of foundational efforts, it signifies not the end, but rather the end of the beginning. Looking ahead to 2024, we believe the focus should be on structure and alignment,” said Tim McCartney, Chairman of the AWC.

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