The Alabama Department of Commerce clearly understands the importance of workforce development.

For the past five years, the department has worked tirelessly to streamline and improve the state’s education and worker training efforts.

Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said the series of initiatives launched, which include Accelerate Alabama, the Alabama Workforce Council and Apprenticeship Alabama, is an effort to take Alabama to the national forefront of workforce development.

The goal is “… that every person in Alabama who wants to find a job can, and … that every employer that comes to Alabama will be able to hire the skilled workers it needs,” Canfield said.

The latest strategy is called AlabamaWorks. The backbone of this initiative will be seven local Regional Workforce Councils.

Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence are among the 13 counties that are grouped into Region 1 and will be served by the North AlabamaWorks council. Micah Bullard is executive director of the region, but it’s his assistant director, Stephanie McCulloch, who will be doing much of the legwork in the three-county area.

Area industrial, economic development and education leaders got a taste of the importance of this new organization last month when North AlabamaWorks hosted a quarterly workforce summit that attracted representatives from 50 businesses and industries in north Alabama.

Splitting the state into seven Regional Workforce Councils allows each cluster to focus their efforts on the specific needs of industries in their region. For instance, in discussions with leaders in Region 1, it was determined the areas of concentration would be health care, construction and advanced manufacturing. Region 1 has unique opportunities, with only 5.1 percent unemployment and relatively healthy job growth. Only central Alabama’s Region 6 has a lower unemployment rate, at 5 percent. For these districts, workforce development must be particularly aimed less at creating jobs than at developing a workforce with the skills to take higher-paying jobs.

Another smart move was to ensure that every county in a region had two representatives on the governing board, and that 75 percent of those board members must be industry and business leaders. After all, the best way to determine the needs of industries and businesses is to hear directly from those involved in the day-to-day operations of those fields.

The AlabamaWorks program is still in its infancy stage, but there’s a lot to like about the direction of the effort. Providing residents a direct link to the workforce needs of businesses and industries will prove to be an invaluable aid to those looking for work, or looking for career advancement. And defining those workforce needs of businesses and industries will help our educational leaders do a better job of establishing the training programs needed to meet those needs.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

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