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Ivey provides update on Alabama’s workforce development efforts

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) provided an update on her efforts at improving the state’s workforce development.

The Governor promises that through her ‘Strong Start, Strong Finish’ initiative, she is making improving Alabama’s education system a top priority for the state.

The initiative, announced in July 2017, focuses on three stages of education: 1) early childhood education, 2) computer science in middle school and high school, and 3) workforce preparedness.

“In order to meet the current and future demands of business and industry, more must be done to develop a workforce development system that offers a seamless educational journey for individuals to enter in-demand career pathways at every stage of life,” Governor Ivey said.

To create the most effective workforce development program for Alabamians across the state, the Governor recently established the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation (GOEWT).

“Already, Alabama is taking the lead in workforce development efforts, which catches the attention of companies from around the globe and ultimately provides more opportunities for Alabamians,” Gov. Ivey added.

On June 10, 2019, Gov. Ivey signed Senate Bill 295 into law.

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SB295 was sponsored by State Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

SB295 expands the Apprenticeship Alabama Tax Credit by providing an additional $500 for hiring in-school youth apprentices. SB295 also modifies the Apprenticeship Alabama Tax Credit to increase the base tax credit from $1,000 to $1,250 and increases the number of apprentices one employer may claim from five to 10, as well as the tax credit cap from $3 million to $7.5 million. SB295 also establishes the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA).

“Getting both new high school graduates and existing workers prepared for the workforce with certified and marketable skills will not only provide better job opportunities, but also enhanced wages that can have a permanent, positive impact on the worker and their family,” Sen. Orr said.

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When officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA) will be Alabama’s state apprenticeship agency. The AOA will answer directly to the Alabama Department of Commerce and will serve as a registration agency for registered apprenticeships in the state of Alabama.

Gov. Ivey said that she is proud to share that the U.S. Department of Labor has granted the Alabama Community College System a $12 million grant to build its partnership with the National Association of Manufacturers. Industry partners will provide partial matching funds to the institutions to develop in-demand skills as part of their programs.

“Alabama’s 24 community colleges are working every day within their local communities to ensure students, from high schoolers to adults looking to advance their skills, have a pathway to success through education and skills training,” ACCS Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker said. “We are proud that our most recent efforts to expand apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities for thousands of Alabamians have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. This expansion will help individuals gain the real-world experience that business and industry is seeking as they hire for well-paying, in-demand jobs.”

In June, the state of Alabama received a $1.2 million federal grant to expand funding for state apprenticeships. Coinciding with the federal grant, the Alabama Legislature budgeted $1 million to offset the costs associated with dual enrollment courses and credential fees for apprentices. The grant coupled with the state investment will be used to provide scholarship for a dual enrollment or community college course that is part of the apprentice’s related technical instruction.

“Alabama is a state so full of potential, both in the workforce opportunities we are seeing develop, as well as in the preparedness of its citizens to fulfill those workforce opportunities,” state Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey said. “The aggressive advances we are seeing in workforce development efforts will open doors for professional, economic and industrial growth in our great state. We look forward to the shared vision of Alabama being the hallmark of a state booming with progress, and an education system primed to produce students who are well-equipped to meet the demands of a thriving workforce.”

On June 24, 2019, Credential Engine awarded Alabama a $50,000 technical grant to support credential transparency. The Alabama Department of Commerce will serve as the fiscal agent and manager of this project.

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, we are moving to the next level of apprenticeship program development in our state,” AIDT Director Ed Castile added. “Partnering with many Alabama companies, the Alabama Community College System, K-12 Education, the Alabama Workforce Council and our 7 Regional Workforce Councils we will be extremely successful in developing our skilled workforce through this new Alabama Office of Apprenticeship. It is another ‘tool in the tool box’ to assist us in reaching the goals set forth in the Governor’s Success Plus plan.”

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “There is an intense competition for talent at the local, state, and global levels, and companies want to make sure that we have a quality and skilled workforce to meet their needs. This is where partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and universities come in. It is the communication between industry and education that helps ensure that students receive coursework and practical applications that will prepare them for future jobs.”

Ivey said that the Department of Commerce, the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, and a myriad of state education and workforce development agencies will collaborate to publish all of the certificates, licenses, traditional degrees and non-degree credentials offered in Alabama to the credential registry.

“One area that we need to work on recruiting again are the skilled trades,” Jones told APR. “Collectively, we can help current generations overcome the stigma associated with working in the trades by talking with students and parents and helping them realize that it is honorable and respectable to be able to feed your family as a plumber, or a welder, or an electrician. The 20-year gap with no emphasis on trades has led to many jobs being left unfilled. As Alabamians, as United States citizens, we need to change our messaging.”

The state is currently enjoying a booming economy and the lowest unemployment in state history, but plentiful work opportunities can lure some workers into neglecting to improve their skill set.

Gov. Ivey recognizes that when the economy is as strong as this economy is and when unemployment is less than four percent, the challenge is reaching those individuals who need further preparation to re-enter the workforce.

Ivey is using her apprenticeship expansion efforts to attempt to position the workforce development programs across the state to work in the best interests of Alabamians. Governor Ivey’s goal is to overcome the state’s obstacles and aid the men and women of this state to overcome their own barriers and be on the way to earning a family-sustaining wage.

Business and industry will identify the skills that they need and the schools will try to recruit and train the workers, both in the Two Year College system and in the high schools to fill those specific needs. Students will earn experience and certificates through apprenticeships.

“Communication between businesses and school systems is a two-way street and must be a reciprocal, continuous process,” Dr. Jones added. “Under the leadership of Governor Ivey and her administration, the State of Alabama has taken proactive steps to facilitate communication between industry and education. These initiatives will help bridge skills gaps and create more availability of skilled labor that the business community desires, which can ultimately result in more jobs created and more positions filled.”

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Governor announces $356,000 in grants to community agencies to address poverty

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced the award of $356,250 to 20 community action agencies statewide for programs aimed at reducing poverty. 

The Community Action Association of Alabama is to use the funds to support programs by the local agencies which help low-income families, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“Our state’s community action agencies provide vital services to low-income residents who are working to establish or regain their footing to be successful,” Ivey said in a statement. “I commend the work these agencies do to further the goal of reducing and eliminating poverty by helping families build brighter futures.”

The 20 agencies to receive the federal community service block grants offer educational and assistance programs, including job training and education opportunities, access to better nutrition and help with financial management and credit counseling, according to the release. 

The funds are administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and were appropriated by the state Legislature.  

“Gov. Ivey and ADECA fully support the assistance programs offered by these agencies because we have seen how they can serve as a jumpstart for life-changing success for Alabama families,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell in a statement. “ADECA is pleased to continue our partnership with the Community Action Association by supporting the many valuable programs offered by the state’s community action agencies.”

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Hindu temple planned for vacant theater in Hoover

Micah Danney

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The vacant AMC theater off Lorna Road in Hoover, Alabama. (IMAGE VIA GOOGLE)

A local Hindu organization purchased a 38-square-foot former theater in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover and plans to convert it into a sanctuary and educational space to serve the area’s growing Hindu community.

Hindus make up less than 1 percent of Alabama’s population, and while an accurate count of adherents in the state is hard to come by, the number of Hindus in the U.S. has more than doubled over the last decade. 

Rajan Zed, a prominent Hindu cleric based in Reno, Nevada, issued a statement claiming that there is an increasing population of Hindus in Alabama that will require new temples, or mandirs, to “help the community to pass on Hindu spirituality, concepts and traditions to coming generations amidst so many distractions in the consumerist society.” 

Zed urged Hoover’s mayor and city council to unanimously approve the temple plans, “thus expressing warm welcome to the caring Hindu community” that he said is known for its charity and community development.

BAPS Birmingham is the group that owns the theater property. It operates a temple in North Birmingham that is currently closed due the pandemic. It proposed the plans for its second temple, which include a large worship space and 14 classrooms, to the Hoover Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted on Monday to recommend them for approval by the city council.

Mayor Frank Brocato said that he doesn’t anticipate anything preventing that approval. 

Before it closed, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan temple hosted weekly assemblies and offered classes to teach children Gujarati, an Indian language distinct from Hindi but similar.

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There is another Hindu temple near Hoover not affiliated with BAPS, in neighboring Pelham. 

BAPS, which stands for Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, is a Hindu denomination established in 1907 with more than 1 million followers. It operates charities and learning centers worldwide and requires five lifetime vows from its followers: no alcohol, no addictions, no adultery, no meat and no impurity of body or mind.

The population of Hindus in the U.S. increased from 1.2 million in 2007 to 2.23 million in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. Zed estimated that the number is around 3 million now. It is projected to reach 4.78 million in 2050, or 1.2 percent of the U.S. population.

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Prisoners quarantined at formerly closed prison kept in unconstitutional conditions, groups say

Conditions are so bad that inmates have been forced to urinate and defacate on themselves because restrooms are not accessible, the complaint alleges.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The male intake area at an ADOC facility. (VIA ADOC)

The Alabama Department of Corrections is violating the constitutional rights of inmates being quarantined in deplorable conditions in the previously decommissioned Draper prison, several civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the state’s prison commissioner.

The ACLU of Alabama, the Southern Center for Human Rights, Alabama Appleseed and other groups in a letter to Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday detail those conditions, which include no indoor toilets or running water, repeated power outages, deprivation of regular showers and the requirement of incarcerated men to urinate in “styrofoam cups and plastic water” bottles.

“These conditions fail to meet the most basic constitutional standards and present a substantial risk of serious harm to people already suffering from a potentially fatal disease,” the letter reads. “We therefore request that you immediately cease using Draper to house and/or quarantine COVID-19 patients, and instead house them in medically appropriate settings in accordance with Eighth Amendment standards.”

The groups note that Draper was closed after the U.S. Department of Justice, during its investigation of violence in Alabama prisons, noted Draper as exceptionally “dangerous and unsanitary” with “open sewage” near the entrance, rat and maggot infestations and “standing sewage water on the floors.”

In October 2017, the Justice Department informed ADOC of the department’s shock at the state of the facility and a month later ADOC’s engineer concluded that Draper was “no longer suitable to house inmates, or to be used as a correctional facility,” the letter states.

ADOC reopened a portion of Draper earlier this year to house incoming inmates from county jails being quarantined amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the civil rights groups note in the letter that ADOC failed to indicate plans to also use a classroom without bathrooms, running water or adequate medical care at Draper to house COVID-19 patients from other state prisons.

The groups allege in the letter that approximately 15 cots are located in the approximately 500 square feet former classroom, where at any given time between 5 and 15 inmates are being kept. The only restroom facilities the men can use are portable bathrooms outside, and the men have to “bang on the classroom windows to get officers’ attention.”

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“Though officers sometimes escort the men when asked, they decline at other times and fail to maintain a schedule; thus, the men do not have access to bathroom facilities when needed,” the letter reads, adding that the men aren’t allowed to use the outdoor restrooms between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“We have further reason to believe that one man was permitted to use the bathroom only three times during a 13-day quarantine. Another man was not taken to the bathroom until his third day at Draper, while another was forced to urinate on himself on multiple occasions after being denied bathroom access,” according to the letter. “One man suffering from diarrhea was forced to wait hours to use the restroom to defecate. Many others could only relieve themselves into styrofoam cups, plastic bottles, portable urinal containers, or trash cans.”

“They had to hold onto urine-filled bottles for hours at a time until they were allowed to leave the classroom to empty them. It is also our understanding that some men held in these conditions did not receive bottles at all; correctional officers simply told these men that they were ‘out of luck,’” the letter continues.

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The letter also details instances of alleged inadequate medical care, including a man who was sent to a local hospital with heart attack symptoms after not receiving his heart medication for several days.

The groups are also unaware of any Inmates leaving Draper who were tested for COVID-19 before being returned to Elmore and Staton prisons, the letter also states.

“We also have reason to believe that many of the symptomatic men at Staton and Elmore have not reported their symptoms to prison staff for fear of being held at Draper in the deplorable conditions described above,” the letter continues.

APR has learned from several sources in recent weeks, who asked not to be identified because they have loved ones in Alabama prisons and are fearful of retributions for speaking out, that many inmates who have symptoms of COVID-19 aren’t reporting those symptoms to prison staff for fear of being quarantined. Those family members are concerned that the disease is spreading much more broadly in Alabama prisons than is known as a result, putting their loved ones at greater risk of contracting the deadly disease.

Many of the concerns expressed in the letter were first reported by AL.com reported on Sept. 13, which found that access to medical care in Draper is limited and the conditions unsanitary.

In a response to AL.com’s questions for that article, an ADOC spokeswoman wrote that inmates at Draper have access to “medical and mental health care, telephones, law library, mail services, and showers.”

“Please remember — Inmates remanded to our custody have been convicted of a crime and handed a sentence to serve time as determined by a court. The unfortunate reality is that he or she, as a result of the crime committed and subsequent conviction, loses his or her freedoms,” ADOC said in the responses.

“This response is unacceptable as a matter of principle, and inadequate as a matter of law,” the letter from the civil rights group states.

“As ADOC knows, the fact of a criminal conviction does not strip incarcerated people of their rights under the Eighth Amendment, nor does it relieve ADOC of its constitutional obligations to the people in its custody, which are to provide them with ‘humane conditions of confinement,’ ‘adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care,’ and ‘reasonable safety,’” the letter continues.

On Sept. 16, ADOC reported that there have been 403 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, 21 deaths of inmates after testing positive for COVID-19, and 375 cases among prison staff. Two prison workers have died from COVID-19, ADOC previously said.

As of Sept. 14, there had been 1,954 inmate tests for coronavirus, out of the approximately 22,000 state inmates, according to ADOC.

ADOC on Sept. 16 said that on Thursday the department was to begin rolling out a plan to provide free COVID-19 tests to ADOC staff and contracted healthcare staff using fixed and mobile testing sites.

“In addition, we will test all inmates in facilities that house large numbers of inmates with high risk factors as an enhancement to our current testing protocols,” ADOC said in a press release.

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Study: Those with COVID twice as likely to have dined in restaurants

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten in restaurants, which builds upon known factors about how the disease is transmitted, experts say, but the study has limitations.

The study surveyed 314 adults in 10 states and found that those who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten at restaurants within the previous 14 days. Researchers found that there was no significant difference between those who tested both positive and negative and who said they had gone to gyms, coffee shops, used public transportation or had family gatherings.

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes.

Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist and associate professor at UAB’s School of Public Health, told APR on Wednesday that the study lends evidence to what the medical community knows are potential risks for contracting COVID-19, which include being indoors and unmasked, but there are nuances to each of those activities that can either increase or decrease that risk.

The study did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, and infectious disease experts say being outdoors decreases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s also hard to know what policies are in place where these people were recruited from for this study,” Hidalgo said. “Whether they’re required to be masked or if there’s a decreased capacity in a restaurant.”

Monica Aswani, assistant professor at UAB’s School of Health Professions, said she would be cautious about interpreting the study through a causal lens.

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“People who are willing to dine in restaurants are also likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as not wearing masks. Since this is a survey, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the source of exposure was restaurants without contact tracing to supplement it,” Aswani said. “Likewise, respondents may have misreported their behaviors, given the sensitive nature of the questions. The authors note this as a limitation and highlight how participants were aware of their Covid-19 test results, which may have influenced how they responded.”

Aswani also noted that the questions about dining did not differentiate between indoor versus outdoor seating, “which represent different levels of risk to exposure.”

“Participants who visited a restaurant on at least one occasion, regardless of the frequency, are also considered similar. Consequently, in the two weeks before they felt ill, someone who dined on a restaurant patio once and someone who ate indoors at five different restaurants are indistinguishable in their data,” Aswani said.

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Hidalgo said that while there are clear limitations to the CDC’s study, the findings do back up what the medical community knows about the transmission of the disease.

“I would very much look at this from the big picture perspective, and say we know that indoor activities are an increased risk for COVID-19. This study lends evidence to that,” Hidalgo said.

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