The skills needed for today’s modern workplace are shifting, and leaders are working diligently to prepare the next generation of workers. However, there is a growing skills mismatch looming across our country – evidence that the “you must go to college and be successful” narrative, which has been built into the fabric of many of our educational institutions, no longer applies. That’s especially true in Alabama.
College isn’t the only gateway to success, as Gov. Kay Ivey said earlier this year when she announced her AlabamaWorks! Success Plus initiative, with a goal of adding to the workforce an additional 500,000 Alabamians with high school-plus credentials by 2025. This initiative emphasizes the need for businesses and educational institutions to prepare students for the workforce of today and beyond.
Today, companies are desperately seeking prospective employees who have skills that do not necessarily require a four-year degree. This demand is across virtually all business sectors — healthcare, manufacturing, technical and industrial, to name just a few.
I became involved in credentialing and workforce development at Central High School in Tuscaloosa. The principal of Central High, Dr. Clarence Sutton Jr., was faced with a serious dilemma on his hands. He saw some of his graduating seniors who weren’t going to college falling through the cracks of society without any work or purpose.
Once we learned about the need facing Central High School and met Dr. Sutton personally, we immediately adopted his high school as our own. To solve the unemployment barrier facing graduating seniors at Central High, Ōnin brought employers together to tackle this issue. In conjunction with Phifer Inc., we designed a catalyst for change that could be applied throughout the entire state of Alabama.
The High School Ready-to-Work Program is an employer-led initiative that creates a career pathway for high school seniors and builds a local talent pipeline for industries. Students take part in a semester-long course that begins with six weeks of AIDT’s Ready-To-Work soft skills training, problem-solving and various work-readiness skills. The next 12-13 weeks cover industry-specific content that is designed by local employers to meet real, local hiring needs.
Each industry week creates a work world for the students to step into and explore. Upon successful completion of the High School Ready-to-Work program, students receive a National Career Readiness Certificate and an Alabama Certified Worker Certificate. With a job placement percentage close to 90 percent, this program has successfully created career opportunities for the students.
The High School Ready-to-Work program has since expanded rapidly to more than 15 other schools in west Alabama. It is also spreading to multiple schools in the Birmingham metro area and beyond.
True impact requires new forms of collaboration, so as this High School Ready-to-Work program grows across Alabama, Ōnin is seeking additional collaboration with employers and others to prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s jobs without letting anyone slip through the cracks. It’s a challenging goal, but one in which we must all unite to achieve.