The Alabama Industrial Development and Training agency, the state Department of Commerce’s worker recruitment arm, is looking for about 27,000 employees for a variety of industries.

About 75-80% of those jobs require education beyond high school, and finding workers becomes more challenging as Alabama’s unemployment hits record lows, said Ed Castile, the AIDT director.

“We’re turning over every rock and looking for anybody,” Castile said. “If they have a good attitude and want to work, we’re trying to remove every roadblock to get them to work.”

Gov. Kay Ivey has set a goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers by 2025, which would bring the level of work-age Alabamians with post high school training or degrees from about 43% in 2016 to 60%.

“We cannot wait for students to show up at our campuses. We have to get out there and find them,” said Jeff Lynn, Alabama Community College System’s vice chancellor of workforce and economic development.

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‘Credentials that matter’

Educators are focusing on “credentials that matter.”

“It’s not only about the production of any degree, it’s about the production of the right degrees,” Alabama Commission on Higher Education Executive Director Jim Purcell said recently.

Colleges need to work with their communities and local industries to ensure their workforce credential needs are being addressed, he said. For four-year universities, Purcell said “micro credentials,” similar to minors but more focused to business and industry, will enhance existing programs.

“We need to make sure our graduates have some specific skills that make them attractive to employers,” he said.

Lynn said the community colleges have been working to align their programs to the workforce needs of their areas and to inform students of the high-demand jobs available and what’s needed to be qualified for them.

“We don’t want to force someone into a career, but we want to give them an awareness,” Lynn said.

Though manufacturing and industry has expanded in several Alabama regions recently, Lynn said other high-pay, high-demand professions are in the 500,000 expected jobs, including health care and education.

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Getting to 500,000

Lynn and others describe a variety of paths to becoming a credentialed worker and pools of possible employees.

• Dual enrollment:

Last year, 14,469 high school students were also taking community college courses. Dual enrollment has increased by nearly 44% in the past five years, according to ACCS, and 87% of dual enrollment students successfully complete their courses.

• Out-of-school youths and working adults:

In 2017, there were 24,000 16- to 19-year-olds not attending school, according to ACCS. Extend the age to 24 and the total becomes 88,000.

The goal would be to get them to their GED or diploma, and then a credential for a job nearby, Lynn said.

“We don’t want to train them for a job across state because the likelihood that they’re going to move is low,” Lynn said.

Separately, about 400,000 adults don’t have education beyond high school.

“Our job is to reach out and offer them an opportunity to get credentials,” Lynn said.

Purcell said colleges need to reconnect with the about 20% of the state’s population that have some college coursework but no credential.

• Unemployed:

While Alabama’s unemployment rate is historically low, employable people without jobs still exist in the state, Lynn said. A significant number of them are 33- to 44-year-old women, Lynn said. Some colleges are targeting specific programs to them. Jefferson State Community College has a welding program for single mothers.

Meanwhile, Castile said AIDT has looked to the Department of Rehabilitation Services for future workers with some physical disabilities like hearing loss.

“There are a lot of jobs that can be done with a little adjustment,” Castile said.

• Veterans and military:

Castile and Lynn both pointed to a pool of veterans and active military.

“We’re working more closely with veterans' groups,” Castile said. “There are a lot of vets in our state who are underemployed or not employed.”

• Inmates, those without licenses:

The community college system is the state’s largest provider of education services to the incarcerated.

Lynn said ACCS is doing a significant amount of work to train inmates and align them with companies that will hire them upon their release.

Alabama Appleseed Executive Director Carla Crowder suggests Alabama do what numerous other states have done in recent years by providing an expungement process for old felonies to be removed from records so people can move forward with their lives and be more employable.

“Over the last five years, nearly 5,000 people have gotten felony marijuana convictions, for possession alone,” Crowder said. “So 5,000 people who are doing something that is legal in states where half of Americans live are stuck with a felony conviction and limited work opportunities here. It just doesn't make sense.”

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Apprenticeships

Last week, Ivey held ceremonial signings for two workforce development laws.

House Bill 570 allows people who complete apprenticeships to be granted occupational licenses if they meet certain requirements, including passing required exams.

“I think when you look at the percentage of students who graduate from high school and don’t actually go to any type of college, and every type of employer seems to want them to have some type of experience, but if they’re fresh out of high school the only way they are going to get that is through some of these apprenticeship programs,” bill sponsor Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said last week.

Senate Bill 295, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, creates the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship within the Alabama Department of Commerce. The bill also expands possible tax credits for employers who hire and train apprentices in high school.

“The new law will provide a variety of pathways to credentialing and certification of employees,” Orr said last week. “I am really excited about the potential for high-schoolers to graduate with a certification that suits their interests and provides a long-term ability to have enhanced earnings.”

Alabama Daily News reporter Caroline Beck contributed to this report.

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