Ainsworth, state education officials talk workforce development realities at Marshall County manufacturer
Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) recently led a group of legislators and state education officials in touring Kappler, a manufacturer of protective clothing in Guntersville.
According to a release from the Alabama company, the event was organized by Ainsworth based on the suggestion of Kappler president and CEO Laura Kappler-Roberts, after she had conveyed to Ainsworth a common theme heard from modern industry leaders: “I just need people to show up for work!”
Kappler’s senior management joined the following group for a tour of the company’s Marshall County campus and manufacturing facilities:
Judy Miller, Ainsworth’s chief of staff
Cole Wagner, Ainsworth’s Senate liaison/workforce coordinator
Jimmy Baker, chancellor, Alabama Community College System
Dr. Eric Mackey, superintendent, Alabama Department of Education
Nick Moore, Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation
State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville)
State Representative Wes Kitchens (R-Arab)
State Representative Kerry Rich (R-Albertville)
During the visit, the group and Kappler leaders discussed the critical and changing needs of industry when it comes to workforce development programs.
Kappler-Roberts is familiar with both sides of the issue, serving as a board member for the local K-12 school system. A long-time proponent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education initiatives, she explained to the group how businesses of all sizes are experiencing a major challenge with retaining a productive, reliable workforce.
Speaking during the visit, she advised that this stems from a fundamental breakdown in the American value system and the erosion of basic work ethic.
“There is a breakdown in the value that appreciates giving a decent day’s work for a decent day’s wage,” said Kappler-Roberts. “There is a breakdown in the joy of finding purpose and fulfillment as well as in working and being a productive citizen, contributing to a community. There is a breakdown in valuing the greater good of all over one’s own self.”
She also outlined how worker shortages have become worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, because school closures have forced some parents to choose between work or taking care of their children at home. Kappler-Roberts advocated for steering relief funds to pay for or subsidize daycare services so workers can do their jobs and the economy can better recover.
However, the coronavirus is far from the only significant problem adversely impacting the workforce, she explained. In fact, local workforce limitations have apparently forced Kappler to look outside of its Marshall County employee base for both domestic and offshore contractors to provide the necessary production capacity to meet customer demand.
One call-to-action from the visit was Kappler-Roberts voicing support for more early childhood education, pointing to programs that start with children ages three through five as being exemplars of success. She also believes that basic citizenship skills, civic engagement and career skills should start being taught by the fifth grade, rather than in high school.
“You’ve dropped the ball if you’re focused on career development only in high school. We must start earlier in order to support the growth of core values and work ethic,“ she commented.
Kappler-Roberts expressed appreciation to Ainsworth for spearheading the visit.
In a statement to Yellowhammer News, the lieutenant governor — known for being a champion of workforce development — said, “Even with the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents, Alabama’s economy has remained relatively healthy, but only a committed, qualified, and eager workforce will allow it to stay strong.”
“Companies like Kappler are desperate for workers who can help them keep the economic engine running, and that is why I assembled some of Alabama’s top workforce decision makers for a first-hand tour,” he concluded. “With targeted training, a unified commitment, and a concerted effort to prepare the youth of today for the jobs of tomorrow, I am confident that Alabama’s businesses, both large and small, can continue growing, thriving, and expanding well into the future.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn