Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth’s Commission on 21st Century Workforce unveiled plans Tuesday that include creating a new cabinet position to address the state’s workforce development needs.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Commission on 21st Century Workforce was established in 2019, and charged with charting a path to improve and modernize workforce competitiveness.
“Alabama is the economic recruitment leader of the Southeast, but to maintain our competitive edge we need historic, transformative changes to our workforce development system,” Ainsworth said. “Our commission has created a plan to align our job training efforts so Alabama can seize new opportunities and connect all Alabamians with 21st century employment. With these reforms, we can make Alabama’s workforce development the envy of the nation.”
Ainsworth was joined by Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, commission members Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-Hayneville, Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Helena Duncan, and other commission members and legislators at the announcement of the group’s recommendations.
The plan calls for merging the Department of Commerce’s Workforce Development Division, AIDT and the Department of Labor into a new Alabama Workforce Authority (AWA) to be led by a cabinet-level Secretary of Workforce Development appointed by the Governor. The AWA would be governed by a nine-member board of directors who would advise the Governor and Legislature on workforce priorities and help hold state agencies accountable.
The plan addresses Alabama’s woeful labor participation rate early on, identifying more than 1.7 million Alabmaians over the age of 16 that are not active in the workforce.
“While Alabama’s unemployment rate is at record lows– 2.45 percent in November of 2023 – almost half of the state’s working-age residents are neither employed nor seeking to participate in the workforce,” the document notes. “That means that in the unlikely scenario in which the unemployment rate in Alabama were to drop to 0 percent, meaning all those looking for jobs have jobs, the state would still be faced with an 67,500-worker shortage for jobs that exist today.”
Reed said transforming the state’s workforce development initiatives will be a major priority in the upcoming legislative session that begins Feb. 6.
“We need to effectively recruit, train and employ Alabamians for the in-demand jobs of today and the jobs of the future,” Reed said. “The Lieutenant Governor and commission members can be proud of the work they’ve done. We can get people off the sidelines, back into the labor force and into skilled jobs that will provide meaningful careers and family-sustaining incomes.”
“I applaud Gov. Ainsworth’s leadership and all those who served with us on the Lieutenant Governor’s commission,” said Rep. Danny Garrett, a commission member. “Alabama is witnessing record-breaking economic growth and historically low unemployment rates, but our labor force participation rate is among the worst in the nation. Our workforce development system must innovate if we want to provide opportunities to more workers.”
In addition to Ainsworth and Garrett, members of the commission are Alabama Power Company CEO Jeff Peoples, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative CEO Gary Smith, State Senators Dan Roberts, Donnie Chesteen, Linda Coleman-Madison, and April Weaver, and State Representatives Kelvin Lawrence, Joe Lovvorn and Debbie Wood.
“It has been an honor to serve with such a knowledgeable and engaged group of leaders who are dedicated to improving our state,” said Ainsworth. “Our work does not end with this report but when these reforms become law and change Alabama for the better.”
The plan makes identifies recruiting as one of the most critical factors to creating workforce pathways and provides multiple recommendations seeking to strengthen those pathways. One recommendation is to highlight the value of Career and Technical Education (CTE) by developing a diploma pathway that supports students accessing skills training during high school, and reinvesting in county CTE centers to ensure students are trained for in-demand careers.
Alabama should also increase and centralize funding within the AWA for recruiting disconnected and underemployed individuals, the plan proposes. AWA and its recruitment partners would connect individuals likely to reengage with the workforce with information on pathways and training for existing, in-demand jobs through targeted outreach where they live and on the media platforms they use.
Under the plan, the AWA would develop a workforce development plan that would be updated at the start of each quadrennium to create accountability for workforce outcomes, including benchmarks for success.
Another obstacle the plan seeks to tackle is barriers to labor force participation including improved mental health, childcare, housing, and transition opportunities for military members.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Commission on 21st Century Workforce plan can be viewed here.