By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The Alabama Industrial Development and Training agency, the department of commerce’s worker recruitment arm, is looking for about 27,000 employees for a variety of industries.
About 75 to 80% of those jobs require education beyond high school and finding workers becomes more challenging as Alabama’s unemployment hits record lows, said Ed Castile, the AIDT director.
“We’re turning over every rock and looking for anybody,” Castile told Alabama Daily News. “If they have a good attitude and want to work, we’re trying to remove every roadblock to get them to work.”
Gov. Kay Ivey has set a goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the workforce by 2025, which if accomplished would bring the level of work-age Alabamians with post high school training or degrees from about 43 percent in 2016 to 60 percent.
That goal, Castile said, has focused the state’s workforce developers and education agencies that realize too few young people are coming out of high schools to fill these jobs.
“We cannot wait for students to show up at our campuses, we have to get out there and find them,” said Jeff Lynn, Alabama Community College System’s vice chancellor of workforce and economic development.
Pools of possible workers include the underemployed and undereducated, veterans, people with disabilities and even victims of the state’s opioid abuse problem. Castile said there are people who lost their jobs as a result of helping a family member battle addiction.
“If we can help them get straightened out at home, they can be very good employees,” Castile said.
|Less than high school
‘Credentials that matter’
Educators are focusing on “credentials that matter.”
“It’s not only about the production of any degree, it’s about the production of the right degrees,” Alabama Commission on Higher Education Executive Director Jim Purcell said recently.
Colleges need to work with their communities and local industries to ensure their workforce credential needs are being addressed, Purcell said. For four-year universities, Purcell said “micro credentials,” similar to minors but more focused to business and industry, will enhance existing programs.
“We need to make sure our graduates have some specific skills that make them attractive to employers,” he said.
Lynn said the community colleges have been working to align their programs to the workforce needs of their areas and to inform students of the high-demand jobs available and what’s needed to be qualified for them.
“We don’t want to force someone into a career, but we want to give them an awareness,” Lynn said.
Though manufacturing and industry has expanded in several Alabama regions recently, Lynn said other high-pay, high-demand professions are included in the 500,000, including health care and education.
Of the 500,000 jobs, about 330,000 are expected to be new while 170,000 would be created by the retirement of existing employees.
What we’re trying to do is make sure people have a pathway to getting credentials, staying in Alabama and helping Alabama be successful, Lynn said.
Declining student body
If educating those 500,000 workers fell only on the state’s two- and four-year colleges’ shoulders, each public institution would need to increase productivity 16% annually through 2025, Purcell said.
“That wouldn’t be a daunting task,” he said.
Alabama high schools graduate about 50,500 students a year, Lynn said.
“That number is not growing, it’s actually been shrinking,” he said.
Systemwide community college enrollment has also declined in recent years, while overall four-year university enrollment has increased, according to ACHE data.
While Alabama has gained population in recent years from 4.71 million in 2010 to an estimated 4.85 million now, most of that growth was in people ages 50 to 70, according to Census estimates.
Getting to 500,000
Lynn and others describe a variety of potential paths to becoming a credentialed worker and pools of possible employees.
Last year, 14,469 high school students were also taking community college courses. Dual enrollment has increased by nearly 44% in the past five years, according to ACCS.
And 87% of dual enrollment students successfully complete their courses.
Out-of-school youths and working adults
In 2017, there were 24,000 16 to 19 year olds not attending school, according to ACCS. Extend the age to 24 and the total becomes 88,000.
The goal would be to get them to their GED or diploma, and then a credential for a job nearby, Lynn said.
“We don’t want to train them for a job across state because the likelihood that they’re going to move is low,” Lynn said.
Separately, there are about 400,000 adults who don’t have education beyond high school.
“Our job is to reach out and offer them an opportunity to get credentials,” Lynn said.
Purcell said colleges need to reconnect with the about 20% of the state’s population that have some college coursework but no credential.
While Alabama’s unemployment rate is historically low, employable people without jobs still exist in the state, Lynn said. A significant number of them are 33-to 44-year-old women, Lynn said. Some colleges are targeting specific programs to them. Jefferson Sate Community College has a welding program for single mothers.
Meanwhile, Castile said AIDT has looked to the Department of Rehabilitation Services for future workers with some physical disabilities like hearing loss.
“There are a lot of jobs that can be done with a little adjustment,” Castile said.
Alabamians who receive food assistance are another potential source.
“That help is allowing them to go to work and get training,” Castile said.
Veterans and military
Castile and Lynn both pointed to a pool of veterans and active military.
“We’re working more closely with veterans’ groups,” Castile said. “There are a lot of vets in our state who are underemployed or not employed.”
Inmates, those without licenses
The community college system is the state’s largest provider of education services to the incarcerated.
Lynn said ACCS is doing a significant amount of work to train inmates and align them with companies that will hire them upon their release.
Most of Alabama’s incarcerated will eventually be released.
“It is incumbent that we set them up to succeed,” Lynn said.
The Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is advocating for changes to allow more formerly jailed Alabamians access to the workforce.
“Tens of thousands of Alabamians are saddled with felony convictions for minor offenses from years ago,” Appleseed Executive Director Carla Crowder said.
Every time they go for a job interview they have to check that felony conviction box on an application and many employers won’t hire them.
“This hurts the state and hurts Alabama families,” Crowder said.
Previous efforts by Democrats in the Statehouse to “ban the box” have failed.
Crowder suggests Alabama do what numerous other states have done in recent years by providing an expungement process for old felonies to be removed from records so people can move forward with their lives and be more employable.
“Over the last five years, nearly 5,000 people have gotten felony marijuana convictions, for possession alone,”
Crowder said. “So 5,000 people who are doing something that is legal in states where half of Americans live are stuck with a felony conviction and limited work opportunities here. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Another roadblock to employment Appleseed sees is revoked driver’s licenses. Thousands of Alabamians lose their licenses because they can’t pay traffic tickets, Crowder said. Without them, they can’t get to work or even apply for some jobs.
“When there is no safety related reason for a revocation it is counterproductive to our workforce challenges, not to mention harmful for Alabama families, to revoke drivers licenses for unpaid traffic tickets,” Crowder said. “We can look to Virginia and to Mississippi, both of which have realized the wastefulness of such policies and stopped them.”
New laws focus on apprenticeships
Last week, Ivey held ceremonial signings for two workforce development laws.
House Bill 570 allows people who complete apprenticeships to be granted occupational licenses if they meet certain requirements, including passing required exams.
“I think when you look at the percentage of students who graduate from high school and don’t actually go to any type of college, and every type of employer seems to want them to have some type of experience but if they’re fresh out of high school the only way they are going to get that is through some of these apprenticeship programs,” bill sponsor Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said last week. “I think they will also learn a lot of real-world skills and experiences that will be very beneficial for them.”
Senate Bill 295, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, creates the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship within the Alabama Department of Commerce. The bill also expands possible tax credits for employers who hire and train apprentices in high school.
“The new law will provide a variety of pathways to credentialing and certification of employees,” Orr said last week. “I am really excited about the potential for high schoolers to graduate with a certification that suits their interests and provides a long term ability to have enhanced earnings.”
Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, sponsored the bill in the House.
“Anytime there is work-based learning going on, I think that is really positive for not only filling those jobs in the needed areas but also just for getting that experience that goes towards those potential workers for the future,” he said.
Ivey said the goal of 500,000 more credentialed workers by 2025 is ambitious, but necessary and tangible.
“Both HB570 and SB295 cut through red tape, ultimately helping more of our men and women be prepared for the demands of the workforce,” she said. “With our record low unemployment rate, we must continue to expand the pipeline to enter the workforce. This legislation does exactly that.”
Alabama Daily News reporter Caroline Beck contributed to this report.