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Economy

Despite COVID, Ivey administration aims to build a stronger workforce

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey held an Coronavirus update Press conference Wednesday, July 29, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

From record-high employment in February to today’s economic downturn, things have changed dramatically for the state’s workforce, but there is also some good news.

One thing that hasn’t faltered due to the pandemic’s ravages is Gov. Kay Ivey’s commitment to preparing Alabama’s workforce for the 21st-century job market.

The innovation and forward-thinking efforts of the governor working with the Alabama Workforce Council have continued to set a course for a better tomorrow for working Alabamians.

Likewise, Secretary Fitzgerald Washington at the Alabama Department of Labor has been an example of grace under pressure as he and his team have worked tirelessly to serve Alabamians who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The industry-state partnership, united under the Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) and the state’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Board (WIOA), is the humming engine that is steadily propelling the state onward even in these unprecedented times of uncertainty.

“Our great state continues to receive recognition for our first-class work-based learning programs, business recruitment efforts and overall business climate,” Ivey said. “At the same time, we know that many in Alabama are unemployed or underemployed and we believe that by focusing on proactive strategies like JumpStartAL and Innovate Alabama, launching our new credentialing and career pathways committee, and growing our apprenticeships and training programs, we can build upon our successes and move Alabama forward.”

Also instrumental in preparing Alabama for the future and reaching the governor’s attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled workers by 2025, is Alabama’s Department of Commerce and AIDT which are leading the way on apprenticeships, training and work-based learning.

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“In many ways, the work we are doing every day on apprenticeships, training and work-based learning is more important than ever,” said Ed Castile, executive director of ADIT and deputy secretary of commerce. “What we see right now is that our manufacturing, IT and chemical companies are back full bore.”

Castile is optimistic about the future because every day, Alabama’s workforce initiatives are successfully recruiting and train new and existing workers.

“We’ve got 130 plus projects, all of them are back up and running full steam,” said Castile. “They’re hiring, every day and we’re, out there recruiting and training. Whether it’s an expansion of an existing business or a new one, our industry is moving forward.”

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Castile, who is daily on the front-lines in his duties at ADIT and Commerce, says he is witnessing the innovation and care that businesses are exercising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Most of our industry partners were back running after a few weeks,” Castile said. “Their innovation, technology and care for employees are making a difference. It’s sad that some people have lost their jobs, but there is also an opportunity now with a little skill training to get into a job better job and one that perhaps won’t be as vulnerable.”

He says he sees daily how the various training programs help Alabamians find meaningful employment with even greater opportunities.

Earlier this year, the National Governor’s Association recognized Alabama as a mentor state for work-based learning.

As NGA noted, work-based learning is crucial to the 21st-century workforce and economy by better preparing student-employees for high-wage, high-demand jobs through on-the-job training that simultaneously provides vital experience with technical education.

Alabama Office of Apprenticeships recently celebrated its first-anniversary aligning industry and education needs with workforce and quickly preparing employees for high-skilled, high-wage careers.

The mission of the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship is to expand the use of registered apprenticeships to provide high-quality career training, which will enable both workers and employers to prosper as the state continues its drive to increase economic development.

The Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, in conjunction with the Department of Commerce and the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways, is identifying in-demand jobs and the associated credentials to align training programs and industry needs.

“From the outset of the AWC, we have been focused on facilitating collaboration between private industry and state government to help Alabama develop a 21st-century workforce in our state that is crucial for our success in the future,” said George Clark, chairman of the state’s Workforce Development Board and president of Manufacture Alabama. “Zeke Smith, of Alabama Power Company, and I were the original chair and vice-chair of the AWC and were privileged to establish the AWC as the driving business and industry force within Alabama’s workforce development efforts.”

Clarke believes his and Smith’s most significant accomplishments as the organization’s first chair and vice-chair were to open new pathways to partnerships while pushing aside obstacles to opportunities.

“Our greatest accomplishment has been removing barriers to success and knocking down silos that previously hindered our collective collaboration,” said Clarke. “The AWC, together with the WIOA Board, remain active in providing policy guidance that aligns our private sector needs with state education and training efforts.”

Industry and government working together to get through these times and prepare for the future are fundamental to financial stability for businesses and workers.

The leadership of AIDT’s Castile and ACCS Chancellor Jimmy Baker, in partnership with major business interests from the state’s private sector such as Alabama Power Company, Altec and others, recently launched JumpStartAL.

JumpStartAL training modules are created with input from industry partners is helping participants develop specific skills needed for jobs, beginning with manufacturing and expanding into other industries in the future. Training is available free of charge for anyone interested in a career in the skilled trades, including high school students, veterans, workers in existing industries, the unemployed and underemployed.

“The Alabama Workforce Council fully recognizes the need for industry and government collaboration, especially during these challenging times,” noted Alabama Workforce Council Chairman Tim McCartney. “We are standing together with Governor Ivey, her staff and administration to ensure that we reach the Governor’s Attainment Goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled workers to the workforce by 2025. To do so, we must ensure that Alabama’s industry and educational institutions collaborate to develop additional work-based learning opportunities for students and adequately align our school’s college and career-ready standards to high-demand/high-wage jobs available in Alabama.”

McCartney says that working together to move Alabama’s workforce forward is the fundamental key to success.

“Working together to provide training for students and adults that provide career pathways through acquiring industry-recognized certificates, degrees, and credentials will lead to successful and fulfilling careers,” said McCartney. “We must boldly embrace new modes of learning, including distance education and short-term credentialing programs that open the door to opportunity for all Alabamians in the COVID-19 environment.”

While many challenges still confront all Alabamians, these workforce initiatives founded on smart public-private partnerships offer a confident path ahead despite the challenges of the coronavirus.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Economy

New unemployment claims continued dropping last week

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 8,679 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, slightly fewer than the 8,848 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

Of the claims filed between Sept. 13 and Sept. 19, 4,465, or 51 percent, were related to COVID-19. That’s the same percentage as the previous week.

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Economy

Unemployment benefits could change for some Alabamians

ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Some Alabamians receiving unemployment benefits could see changes in those benefits after the Alabama Department of Labor conducts a required quarterly review and redetermines eligibility, the department said Friday. 

The Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release Friday that no action is required by those receiving regular unemployment, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. 

ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3. 

“Some may remain eligible for PUA or PEUC, OR they may be required to change to regular unemployment compensation. Weekly benefit amounts may also change. This depends on eligibility requirements,” ADOL said in the release. “Those claimants whose benefit year ends prior to October 3, 2020, will have their claims reevaluated.” 

After the review, if the claimant is determined not to be eligible for regular unemployment compensation, those who qualify may still be able to be paid under PUA or PEUC, and that determination will be made automatically and payment will be issued, the department said in the release. 

Claimants must also continue to certify their weeks.

Many claimants are not receiving benefits because they fail to file their weekly certifications, i.e. requests for payment. ADOL cannot pay benefits for weeks that have not been properly certified. Certifications can be done online at labor.alabama.gov or by calling the appropriate number:

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  • Montgomery – (334) 954-4094
  • Birmingham – (205) 458-2282
  • Not in Local Area – (800) 752-7389

PUA recipients must file their weekly certifications either by telephone or on the PUA app, at pua.labor.alabama.gov.

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Economy

Alabama Gulf Coast beaches remain closed for now

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that beaches will remain closed for now due to ongoing repair and cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

“Working closely with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, as well as Commissioner Billy Joe Underwood, the governor has agreed to keep Baldwin County’s beaches closed until Friday, October 2nd,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This will allow those communities additional time to get their beaches ready for public enjoyment in a safe, responsible manner.”

Mobile County beaches might open earlier than that.

“Likewise, the governor has been in touch with Mayor Jeff Collier, and she is prepared to amend the beach closure order for Mobile County when he signals that Dauphin Island is ready to reopen their beaches,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “At the present time, all Alabama beaches remain closed until further notice.”

Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds. Numerous homes, businesses and farms have been destroyed and many more have seen serious damage.

“As of Wednesday night, approx. 37,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Sally debris (equivalent to roughly 1,700 truck loads worth) has been picked up in Orange Beach since Sunday (4 days),” the city of Orange Beach announced. “Kudos to our debris contractor CrowderGulf.”

“I spent Sunday afternoon meeting with senior staff and I believe we will need some time to get our buildings safe for children to return,” said Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Taylor in a letter to parents. “We live in a very large county. Power may be on in your area and your school may not have any damage, but we cannot open schools unless all schools can open. Our pacing guides, state testing, meal and accountability requirements are based on the system, not individual schools.”

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“We have schools without power and for which we do not expect power until later this week,” Taylor said. “In this new age, we need internet and communications which are currently down so we cannot run any system tests. We have physical damage at our schools including some with standing water, collapsed ceilings and blown out windows. We have debris on our properties and debris blocking our transportation teams from picking up students. All of this must be resolved before we can successfully re-open.”

“If everything goes as planned, I expect we will welcome back students on Wednesday, September 30,” Taylor said. “Prior to returning students to school, we will hold two teacher work days to get our classrooms and our lessons plans back on track.”

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Economy

SNAP replacement benefits coming to three counties hit by Hurricane Sally

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Thousands of SNAP recipients in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties are set to receive automatic replacement benefits as a result of Hurricane Sally, the Alabama Department of Human Resources announced Thursday.

Recipients who received their benefits Sept. 1 through Sept. 16 will receive a replacement of 50 percent of their regular monthly benefit. Those who received supplemental pandemic maximum allotment payments will receive a replacement of 30 percent of those benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the replacement benefits today at the request of DHR. The benefits are intended to replace food purchased with SNAP that was lost to widespread power outages caused when Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16.

“Our priority is to remove the very real threat of hunger for the many Alabamians who are struggling from the devastation of Hurricane Sally,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “The first step toward that goal is to replace the food that so many Alabamians lost to the storm. We are actively working to obtain additional resources to provide much-needed relief for the region as it recovers.”

Hurricane Sally caused over 265,000 households to lose power for at least four hours in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties, where approximately 54,000 households will receive SNAP benefits totaling an estimated $8.5 million.

Those recipients should expect to see the replacement benefits automatically loaded onto their EBT cards next week.

The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama.

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More information about the program can be found at dhr.alabama.gov/food-assistance.

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