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System for Work Skills Maximized

Alabama’s workforce development system — grounded in input from industry — gets a streamlining that communicates clearly in its newly branded voice, AlabamaWorks.

The AlabamaWorks website serves jobs seekers with information on what companies are hiring and where to obtain the necessary skills in classes such as this, at Shelton State Community College. 

Photo by Shelton State Community College/Porfirio Solorzano

Last November, the Alabama Workforce Council and its partners unveiled a new state-wide initiative aiming to offer a more unified way for companies and skilled job seekers to connect and for students to locate available education and training opportunities.

The initiative, called AlabamaWorks, is a rebranding of Alabama’s workforce system, and a major part of the program is a new website, alabamaworks.com. The website features employer services to help companies post job openings, search resumes, connect with job seekers and link to the nearest AlabamaWorks regional council in their area. 

For job seekers, the AlabamaWorks website has information on how to post resumes online, details about which companies are hiring and where to find training opportunities at places like community colleges and technical schools. The website also showcases an array of career guides aimed at students. The guides feature descriptions of the various high-demand jobs and professions, the education and training required to get those jobs and how much a worker could earn in those professions. 

The idea is to help job seekers, students and companies quickly find the helpful resources they need in one location, says Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the state Department of Commerce and executive director of AIDT.

“States that are going to be successful recruiting businesses and keeping them are going to have to have solutions,” says Castile. “So we’ve redesigned our systems from top to bottom at the recommendation and direction of the governor and the Legislature. And so this branding and marketing program that we’ve put together is our effort to show the world what we’re doing.”

In the past, says Castile, those engaged in workforce development often worked independently, in silos. But with state and federal funding harder to come by, the need to work together has become more apparent. 

The new AlabamaWorks system, says Castile, allows workforce development partners, like AIDT and community colleges, to leverage their resources, work more closely together and prevent duplication of programs.

 “We want to ensure that as a person moves through our system that we have it aligned, that people know what the pathways are and that a person is able to go from one step to the next and get the same information at every step,” says Castile.  “We need our staff to be trained up on this, we need our businesses to know what we have available for them and that citizens can find the solutions they want for their lives.”

Besides the website, AlabamaWorks has also taken a more localized approach to workforce development by strategically dividing the state into seven regions — down from 10 under the old system — effective October 1, 2016. Each region has an employer-led workforce council consisting of representatives from local industries and businesses. 

The regrouping of the regions is based on factors such as the population of the counties, the location of industry and business clusters and the commute patterns of citizens within the regions, says Castile. Moreover, each regional AlabamaWorks council will now have a full-time executive director who can lead efforts to address the specific economic development needs in their communities.

“Our goal is to have these councils be the local, boots-on-the-ground information [source] we need so we can have all of our system sources, like colleges and AIDT, respond based on exactly what that local need is,” Castile says.

In Greenville, Cleve Poole serves as vice president of economic development and legal affairs for Pioneer Electric Cooperative Inc. and is the outgoing chairman of the old Region 7. He is now a board member of the new Region 5 Central AlabamaWorks that represents 13 counties, including Perry, Dallas, Lee, Montgomery, Elmore, Autauga and Lowndes. The Region 5 council consists of 26 voting members and representatives from education, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations and representatives from state and local governments. Plans to hire an executive director are in the works, he says.

Poole is also a board member for the new Region 7 Southwest AlabamaWorks that represents nine counties, including Wilcox, Conecuh, Mobile and Baldwin. Pioneer Electric serves customers in both regions, he says.

“To me, the new system has to strengthen relationships and the responsiveness of all of the people who are involved in workforce development,” Poole says. 

That kind of effort, he says as an example, could involve sitting down with the human resource professionals at automotive companies to find out what they are looking for in a skilled worker. He says several companies in regions 5 and 7 have already specified the job skills they want their workers to have, such as the ability to do simple mathematics, read a ruler and instructions, troubleshoot and demonstrate a good work ethic.

“The piece of the puzzle for the workforce council is understanding the needs of industry,” says Poole, “and then reaching out to the other partners in Alabama workforce, especially the trainers such as K-12 schools and colleges and others like AIDT that would then put programs in place to ensure these skills gaps are met.” 

Antiqua Cleggett, executive director of Central Six AlabamaWorks Region 4 in Birmingham, says the hope is that the new branding effort will lead to more partnerships like the one between WKW Automotive and Jefferson State Community College. In July, the college announced a new partnership with WKW that will provide financial assistance for tuition and textbooks for 12 manufacturing students at the college along with a 24-hour-a-week paid internship at the WKW Erbsloeh plant in Pell City. 

Since the rebranding was announced, Cleggett’s  office has fielded more calls from companies, anxious to find out what the new system has to offer, she says. 

“It has been very exciting to watch everything come together,” says Cleggett. “Having the rebranding and pushing it out has allowed us to expand our reach. What we’ve seen is companies that haven’t been engaged are now calling and wanting to know more about us and how they can get connected. I think the rebranding gives companies a resource, one that maybe they didn’t know about before.” 

In Tuscaloosa, Donny Jones, the COO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, is also the executive director of Region 3 West AlabamaWorks.

“In our region alone we have over 2,000-plus jobs that we need to fill in the next 18 months in the automotive industry, health care industry, not to mention in the jobs with the expansion of our manufacturing,” Jones says. 

The region had several programs in place prior to the AlabamaWorks debut, Jones says, including the annual Worlds of Work expo. The event took place most recently last October at Shelton State Community College. More than 4,500 eighth graders from nine counties gathered on the campus to learn, through interactive presentations and hands-on activities, about various high-demand, high-wage jobs that are available in the region. 

Shelton State has also had an ongoing partnership with Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Vance and with AIDT to offer the Mercedes-Benz Automotive Technician and Mechatronics programs to train students for automotive manufacturing careers.  

Besides Tuscaloosa, Region 3 also includes rural counties like Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar and Pickens, along with two newly added counties, Sumter and Marengo. With the addition of Sumter and Marengo, they have also added new members to their council who work for companies like the paper and packaging company WestRock and the Cemex USA cement plant, both in Demopolis; McElroy Truck Lines Inc., in Cuba, Sumter County, and Prystup Packaging Products in Livingston. 

“We’re also excited that AlabamaWorks is reaching out into rural Alabama,” says Jones, “and so more people can find out about the services that we have and take advantage of all of the great resources that are here in the state that many people don’t know about.”  

Gail Short is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.

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