By Ed Castile
What began several years ago as a vision for developing a skilled workforce and ensuring continued industry success is now a reality. In November 2016, AlabamaWorks officially launched, bringing together all the components of Alabama’s workforce development system under one brand.
AlabamaWorks unites Alabama businesses and industries with our education, workforce training and job placement systems. The goal was to bridge the gap between unfilled jobs and a qualified workforce, and we are doing that.
Along with business and industry leaders, partners in AlabamaWorks include the Alabama Department of Commerce and AIDT; the Alabama State Department of Education and its Career/Technical Education Program; the Alabama Community College System; the Alabama Technology Network; the Alabama Department of Labor and its Alabama Career Center System; and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services.
AlabamaWorks also included reconfiguring the state’s original 10 regional workforce councils into seven, each led by a director. The councils determine the needs of their regions through industry clusters that range from healthcare to automotive, transportation to aerospace, and construction to machining. It simply depends on the area’s needs.
Our regional directors have been busy — coordinating job fairs, hosting cluster meetings, working with the media, and planning events that expose students and job seekers to various career opportunities.
Each regional director is paired with a Department of Commerce employee, who is a regional workforce council liaison. Together, they coordinate resources to meet workforce needs of that region.
To ensure our goals are met, our regional directors have specific metrics they must achieve, such as conducting needs assessments, creating annual strategic plans, formulating grants committees, etc. I am pleased to say that all directors are on track to meet their targets.
One milestone for each regional director is to introduce eighth-graders to opportunities in the technical fields. These events go by different names — “Worlds Of Opportunity,” “Worlds of Work,” “Career Discovery” – but they all provide hands-on experiences for students to learn about careers that don’t require a four-year degree. Company representatives also share information about wages, positions available and what type of training or education is required.
In addition to exposing students to technical careers, we also have an apprenticeship program. Launched in January by the Department of Commerce, Apprenticeship Alabama has made significant strides for both employers and employees.
Presently, we have 31 companies and hundreds of apprentices in our system. While the apprentice earns a wage and receives on-the-job training, the registered company gains a qualified employee AND receives a tax credit. Apprentices can expect to earn a higher wage upon successful completion of the program.
One company that is experiencing success with Apprenticeship Alabama is Newman Technology of Alabama, Inc. Newman Technology needed training for some of its existing employees to advance their skills and careers, but wasn’t certain how to proceed. They contacted a representative at Northeast Alabama Community College to discuss company needs and what the college could offer. As a result, Newman now has five apprentices who are getting formal instruction via college courses while receiving on-the-job training with other skilled Newman employees.
To stretch dollars and manpower even further, the Alabama workforce system is combining its resources with those from the federal government through the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act.
Previously, WIOA had three local boards to cover the entire state. Now, WIOA boards are aligning with the seven regions. The first local board meeting was convened by West AlabamaWorks a few weeks ago. There are now five new local boards and two expanded local boards.
AlabamaWorks has also been an asset in industry recruitment. When industry representatives are seeking sites for their companies, they look at the area in its entirety — including its potential workforce. The Alabama Department of Commerce uses AlabamaWorks and its partners as a recruiting tool.
Recently, state leaders announced that several companies are coming to Alabama and another is returning. Dynetics (Huntsville) broke ground on a new facility. Meanwhile, Wolverine Tube (Decatur) announced it will reopen, creating 250 jobs. These and other companies see the value in what we have to offer.
Although we have a lot of work still to do, I feel we have achieved a great deal during the past several months. Through AlabamaWorks, people are working together like never before to ensure Alabama jobs are filled with trained applicants.
For more information on finding employees, posting a job, training or a finding a job, please visit the www.alabamaworks.com website.
Ed Castile is deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce/Workforce Development Division and executive director of AIDT.