By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A new report says that while facing unprecedented impediments due to the pandemic, Alabama has been able to weather a dire employment situation but needs to make gains if it wants to meet an ambitious workforce goal.
According to the Alabama Workforce Council’s 2021 annual report released earlier this month, the state is making progress on Gov. Kay Ivey’s “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative to add 500,000 newly credentialed workers to the state’s workforce by 2025.
To reach the Success Plus postsecondary education attainment goal, Alabama must maintain current rates of attainment and significantly increase the number of people who enroll in programs and earn all types of postsecondary credentials, the report says.
If Ivey’s 2025 goal of adding 500,000 highly skilled employees is reached, it would mean that roughly 60% of Alabama’s workforce would hold postsecondary credentials, degrees, and certificates of value.
Alabama’s 2016 attainment rate was 43.1 percent and the current attainment rate is 44 percent — 7.8 percent of Alabamians hold short- term credentials and 36.2 percent hold an associate degree or higher. However, Alabama’s demand for postsecondary education attainment in 2025 will be 51 percent.
“Alabama is a national leader in workforce development,” Ivey said. “We will continue to provide innovative educational and training opportunities to help Alabamians enter in-demand career pathways for every stage of life.”
In a letter accompanying the report, council Chairman Tim McCartney and Vice Chair Sandra Koblas note that many of Alabama’s industries have proven resilient during the pandemic, “and the Alabama Workforce Council will continue to collaborate with our education and workforce stakeholders to align the education and training programs that will prepare Alabamians for the post-COVID-19 labor market.”
Prior to the pandemic, Alabama was nearing “full employment,” when all who are willing and able are employed. However, the state saw more than 900,000 initial unemployment claims between March 21, 2020 and January 2, 2021. McCartney and Koblas said this added extra obstacles to trying to get an additional 500,000 eligible workers by 2025, but they are still seeing success.
“Despite the enormous economic and social impact of the pandemic, Alabama’s efforts to connect education and workforce development through the Success Plus postsecondary education goal has proven to be not only a sound talent development strategy, but our approach has also served as a nationally recognized workforce development response to the pandemic,” they stated.
With the inclusion of workforce certificates and certifications, Alabama’s postsecondary attainment rate has increased by 12.4 percent since 2008, according to the report.
The full report can be viewed here.
The report outlines two new workforce development tools it is implementing for 2021: the Alabama College and Career Exploration Tool and the Alabama Terminal on Linking and Analyzing Statistics on Career Pathways.
ACCET will allow job seekers to create a verified, digital resume that shows industry-recognized credentials and progress against established competency models. This information will signal to employers that a job seeker or student possesses the needed skills for either an entry-level job or progressive wage increases as a result of learning new skills.
The ATLAS on Career Pathways asset will serve as an integrated workforce and education database that will identify careers and industry credentials that are in demand. This information will then be used to adjust Alabama’s workforce and economic development programs to help meet the needs of Alabama’s growing economy.
The report outlines five priorities that the Council will focus on in 2021: awareness; access and success; pathways; leadership and collaboration; and, assessment and continuous improvement. They aim to tackle these goals through activities like regular webinars, the WECAN initiative which will create asset maps at the county, region and state levels, and the Alabama Skills-Based Job Description Generator and Employer Portal, among other things.
The report also highlights some of the Council’s 2020 accomplishments, one of which is partnering with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to create DAVID, the Dashboard for Alabamians to Visualize Income Determination, which helps individuals understand which in-demand job fields can help users achieve financial independence and overcome the potential loss of public assistance. The tool is currently being rolled out to users at four career center sites in Birmingham, Jasper, Huntsville and Selma.
“We are excited to announce that we have completed our testing and development stage and are moving into implementation and roll out next week,” said Julie Kornegay, senior outreach advisor with the Birmingham branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “We are excited about the possibilities and hope to roll this out statewide by late Spring.”
The DAVID tool maps benefits cliffs for in-demand occupations across Alabama, which will help individuals visualize how their incomes will increase over time as they move toward self-sufficiency, according the the Council. The tool will also help the State implement a “no-wrong-door” approach to the workforce development system by helping the state’s case managers across multiple state agencies provide a continuum of services for consumers of the public workforce system.
Another major 2020 highlight was landing a Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant worth $17.8 million. Alabama was only one of eight states to be awarded the grant, which will help the upskilling and retraining efforts for those workers displaced by the pandemic.
A third highlight of 2020 was the formation of the Alabama STEM Council in September. The STEM Council members “represent leaders from Alabama businesses, education, and state government, and their work will build on and extend Alabama’s Roadmap to STEM Success.”