By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, The Alabama Workforce Council announced the launch of AlabamaWorks, a web portal that links employers looking for skilled workers with Alabamians seeking employment or job training.
But, what I saw at the unveiling ceremony was something far greater than an idea, or a web-portal: It was a plan for prosperity, for the men, women and families of our State, who need a leg up, and not a handout.
The effort is led by Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of the Alabama Power Company. He has banded together a coalition of business leaders, educators and workforce training experts, to address the urgent need for employers and employees to fill high-paying, skilled labor jobs in Alabama.
As Smith and others addressed the assembled stakeholders and media at the Bessemer Campus of Lawson State, it became immediately apparent that something significant, positive and groundbreaking was happening. Underlying every speaker’s remarks was that this idea, that sprang from the council was something good for the working people of Alabama.
As I have written on many occasions, far too many of our citizens suffer three disadvantages: They are chronically undereducated, underemployed and unhealthy. Looking at the multi-racial gathering of leaders in education, workforce development, and big business, it appeared to me, perhaps for the first time, there were answers to these problems.
It would be easy to dismiss AlabamaWorks as just another State boondoggle that becomes campaign fodder for the next election or a newly designed backdoor to dump more tax dollars into big business. But for now, all signs point to the right men and women doing the right thing for Alabamians, who are willing to work for a better tomorrow.
AlabamaWorks is not the repackaging of an old idea; it has the potential of being a new beginning for millions of our hardworking citizens.
At the unveiling, Council Chairman Smith said,”The Alabama Workforce Council and our partners are focused on helping transform the State’s workforce system to dramatically improve the livelihoods for millions of Alabama families for years to come.”
George Clark, President of Manufacture Alabama and vice chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council, stated, “And we needed everyone involved in workforce development, State agencies, education and the business sector all pulling together in the same direction.”
As Smith also noted, the idea that became AlabamaWorks would not have come to fruition without the foresight and support of Governor Robert Bentley.
The Alabama Workforce Council, which has unified the State workforce system, bringing together key components of the K-12, the two-year college system, State workforce training/placement services and industry, is truly making history.
I believe that hope is the opposite of despair. In my rural community, located in Central Alabama, I have seen the hopelessness that follows the closing of a steel plant and when manufacturing jobs are shipped to other countries. Without a good job, no man, woman or family is safe from want and poverty. Poverty breeds a horrific brand of fear that decimates lives and communities.
Unemployment or underemployment can quickly, and in many instances, become a generational plague. Surely we have all witnessed the results of joblessness, where impoverishment gives way to drugs, alcohol, unplanned pregnancies, devastating entire communities. Most of us have also known men, women and families who have prospered when willingness meets with opportunity.
No. AlabamaWorks is not a panacea in and of itself, but the commitment shown by our business leaders, manufacturers and educators, who have committed to its success, gives us a new reason to hope.
Others working diligently to bring great things with AlabamaWorks are, Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, Ed Castile, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Executive Director of Alabama Industrial Development and Training, Fitzgerald Washington, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Labor and Jeff Lynn, Senior Executive Director of workforce and economic development for the Alabama Community College System.