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Economy

Alabama highlighted in Governors Association guide for building a resilient workforce

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As COVID-19 accelerates disruptions impacting the American workforce, the National Governors Association (NGA) issued the findings of a comprehensive two-year project examining ways that governors and other state policymakers can nurture a technologically resilient workforce ready to thrive in an evolving economy.

The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now presents findings and recommendations from the Future Workforce Now: Reimagining Workforce Policy in the Age of Disruption initiative (Future Workforce Now). The guide is available online and via a first-of-its-kind interactive website where users can explore 150 policy and program examples from more than 40 states; in-depth case studies from Alabama, Arkansas and Washington; and global initiatives that promote lifelong learning and that train and credential an evolving workforce.

Alabama is one of three state case studies spotlighted in the report (see page 40). It notes Governor Kay Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, which envisioned creating an education-to-workforce talent pipeline that leads to employment in an occupation that pays a family-sustaining wage regardless of demography or geography.

“I’m honored the National Governors Association selected Alabama as one of the state case studies in their comprehensive workforce guide,” Gov. Ivey said. “As our labor market evolves, it is imperative that our workforce strategy keeps up with the growing demands of business and industry, especially amid the ongoing pandemic. Since launching my Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, we have worked to align our education to workforce pipeline and have created several pathways to reach our goal of adding 500,000 skilled employees to the workforce by 2025. We are proud to showcase our workforce efforts as a model to the rest of the nation.”

Gov. Ivey observed the silos between governmental and nongovernmental entities with a stake in education and workforce development as a significant barrier to accomplishing progress toward this vision.

In response, she established the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation (GOEWT) in 2019 and an accompanying advisory council. The GOEWT Advisory Council is made up of representatives from 22 state agencies who provide the GOEWT with policy recommendations that align with the governor’s education and workforce development strategic plans.

Launched in 2018, Future Workforce Now was led by the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) in partnership with FHI 360 and the Fab Foundation, with support from the Siegel Family Endowment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Schmidt Futures. Through topical roundtables with private-sector experts, researchers, and state leaders, Future Workforce Now explored the technological disruptions and global forces shaping the future of work, workers and workplaces; what these changes mean for education, training and state policy; and the most promising policy and practice responses to prepare the workforce of the future.

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The guide found that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate disruptions already affecting the workforce, including the adoption of automation, shortages of skilled workers in high-demand fields and growing wealth inequality driven by inequitable access to education and training. Because key aspects of education and workforce development programs are determined at the state level, governors are best positioned to commit to systems transformations that enable their citizens to succeed in the workforce of the future. Without these commitments to systems change, the disruptions impacting the workforce will exacerbate inequities that disproportionately affect traditionally disadvantaged and marginalized populations including people of color, those with disabilities, and New Americans.

The guide is a timely resource to help states recover from the impacts of COVID-19, which has inflicted widespread damage on the world and U.S. economy, depressing consumer activity and prompting the highest U.S. unemployment rates in decades.

“While the pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to state economies, governors of both parties around the country are developing strategies for long-term recovery that both anticipate and respond to the transformational changes under way in the American economy and workforce,” said Rachael Stephens, program director for workforce development and economic policy in the NGA Center. “The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now is a timely resource that governors can use to leverage proven innovations and promising ideas and ensure that a rapidly changing economy provides opportunities for all. It will be an especially powerful tool as states navigate an ongoing pandemic, recession, and long-standing issues of racial inequity and economic injustice that are now at the forefront of our national consciousness.”

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The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now recommends that states:

  • Build statewide ecosystems that promote lifelong learning for all workers by orienting leaders toward a shared vision, investing in data and a transparent credential infrastructure, and aligning funding with state workforce goals.
  • Innovate teaching and learning models to close the digital skills gap by engaging employers to develop demand-driven training programs offering flexible learning pathways for all workers.
  • Increase investments in the comprehensive supports that enable all workers to succeed in the workforce, including access to financial aid, career advice and information, portable credentials, and flexibility to succeed in the gig economy.

Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association (NGA) is the bipartisan organization of the nation’s 55 governors. Through NGA, governors share best practices, address issues of national and state interest and share innovative solutions that improve state government and support the principles of federalism.

 

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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Congress

Alabama Arise calls Trump unemployment order “Band-Aid over a gaping economic wound”

Micah Danney

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President Donald Trump answers a reporter’s question during a news conference Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

An Alabama nonprofit that advocates for low-income residents says that President Donald Trump’s executive actions to extend federal aid to Americans affected by the pandemic falls far short of what is needed.

“These executive actions put a Band-Aid over a gaping economic wound,” Chris Sanders, communications director for Alabama Arise, said in a statement on Tuesday. “They don’t stem the tide of evictions or extend rental or mortgage assistance to help people stay in their homes. They don’t increase SNAP assistance to help millions of struggling families keep food on the table. And they don’t provide federal relief to help states avoid layoffs and cuts to education, Medicaid and other vital services.”

Sanders noted that weekly federal aid to people who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic would drop from $600 to $300, with states required to contribute another $100. That would be an undue burden on “cash-strapped” states like Alabama that have lost significant tax revenues, Sanders said.

The aid would only last a few weeks without new legislation, he added. Sanders said Congress could eliminate that uncertainty by extending the $600 weekly unemployment aid into 2021.

Trump’s orders, announced by the White House on Saturday, were meant to bypass a stalemate in Congress over pandemic-related benefits. They are expected to face legal challenges, which Sanders noted they may not survive.

“Even if they would, they’re inadequate to address the size and scope of suffering across Alabama and across our country,” he said. “There’s simply no replacement for a bipartisan relief package. Congress must step up quickly to ease the suffering and help struggling families make ends meet.”

Alabama Arise calls itself a coalition of congregations, organizations and individuals united in a belief that poverty in Alabama is a result of public policy. It promotes policies it says can improve the lives of residents with low incomes.

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Economy

Opinion | Alabama’s workers deserve better than McConnell’s inadequate COVID-19 proposal

Bren Riley

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America is suffering from an unprecedented pandemic and the economic collapse it has created. Nearly three months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill. Right now, that bill is sitting untouched on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk as working people are suffering.

Senator McConnell’s told us to “pause” after the HEROES Act passed, proving he either did not understand how serious this pandemic is or did not care to. Regardless, the McConnell proposal is $2 trillion too short and 73 days too late.

Working people need real relief, not this piecemeal proposal.

For example, Senator McConnell insists he will block any further COVID-19 relief legislation unless it contains a provision that immunizes employers from liability if any working person contracts COVID-19—or God forbid dies from it. We know that now more than ever worker safety should be a top priority, but McConnell continues to put big businesses before people.

Unlike the HEROES Act, Senator Sen. McConnell’s proposal does not call for an OSHA emergency temporary standard. Last week, AL.com reported that out of the 272 state OSHA complaints related to COVID-19 workplace safety, the federal agency conducted just seven on-site inspections. And six out of those seven inspections were the result of a workplace fatality. If Alabama’s experience with COVID-19 in the workplace has taught us anything, it’s that our working people need an enforceable standard now more than ever.

Like every state in the nation, Alabama is suffering from an unemployment crisis. An estimated 7.5 percent of Alabama workers are currently unemployed through no fault of their own. While the HEROES Act would extend federal unemployment benefits, McConnell’s proposal would cut the recently-expired $600 weekly unemployment insurance benefit to just $200. That represents a major drop in the living standards of thousands of families across our state. That money is a lifeline to pay for necessities, including rent, groceries, and prescriptions.

We can’t afford to let anyone fall through the cracks. And recovery down the road requires us to keep working people whole right now. That’s why Alabama’s labor movement has been taking part in a nationwide effort to call on Senator Jones and Senator Shelby to pass the HEROES Act. Across the country, union members and leaders made over 50,000 calls to members of Congress demanding action, and we’re not slowing down until we get a bill that benefits

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We all know Alabama is home to great football, incredible food and southern hospitality. But if we go by the number of new cases per million people, Alabama is also currently home to the fourth-worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States. The percentage of positive tests is more than 21 percent and rising. We demand and deserve better. Alabama’s working people are acting heroically and resiliently to beat this pandemic, but we cannot do this alone—and the clock is ticking. The Senate needs to pass the HEROES Act to save lives and livelihoods.

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Economy

New unemployment claims continue to drop

Micah Danney

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There were 11,692 unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 17,439 the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

Seventy-six percent of the claims from July 26 to Aug. 1 were related to COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. That compares to 89 percent the week before.

New claims increased over the first half of July but declined in the second half.

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Economy

Alabama Power is returning $100 million to customers

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Public Service Commission approved a plan Tuesday to credit Alabama Power Company customers on their October bills. The move returns approximately $100 million to Alabama Power Company customers.

“Putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Alabamians is one of the ways we can help on the road to recovery,” Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh said on social media. “Alabama Power to refund $100 million to customers.”

The typical Alabama Power customer will receive a $25 credit on their October bill. The newly approved credit is on top of a 3 percent rate reduction that customers are already enjoying in 2020. This previous rate cuts and the October credit amount to about $300 million in savings for Alabama Power customers this year.

“We appreciate the commission voting today to expedite this credit for our customers,” said Richard Hutto, Alabama Power’s vice president of regulatory affairs.

The global economic collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt people across Alabama. It has also dramatically lowered fuel costs for Alabama Power Company’s plants.

A typical residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month is expected to receive a credit of $25. Customers who use more energy will receive a larger credit. Customers who use less power receive a smaller credit but had a smaller bill to begin with. Adjustments to fuel costs are typically calculated at the end of the year, with savings passed to customers beginning in January, but due to the economic downturn and pandemic-related job losses, Alabama Power and the PSC are rushing that money to Alabama families and businesses.

“Many of our customers have been hurt by COVID-19. We hope this credit will provide some additional relief at this difficult time,” Hutto explained.

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The 3 percent rate reduction, that took effect in January, was based on earlier estimates of lower costs for fuel and other expenses for 2020. The rate reduction alone equates to about a $4.50-per-month reduction for the typical residential customer.

“Our employees are working every day to keep costs low while providing industry-leading reliability for our customers,” Hutto added.

Alabama Power said in a statement that their total retail price is below the national average and has been for decades. When adjusted for inflation, the price customers pay for electricity is lower today than it was 30 years ago.

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Alabama Power has been assisting customers in other ways during the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the start of the pandemic, the company has suspended disconnects and late payment fees for customers hurt by the coronavirus.

Cavanaugh is seeking another term as president of the Commission.

“It is crucial that we have strong pro-jobs conservatives supporting President Trump’s agenda at all levels of government,” Cavanaugh said on social media.

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