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ALABAMA WORKS: Leaders launch major effort to connect employers to skilled workers

Zeke Smith, executive vice president at Alabama Power Co. and chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council.
Zeke Smith, executive vice president at Alabama Power Co. and chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala — Alabama business, education and workforce training leaders on Tuesday announced a major step in transforming the state’s workforce development efforts into one unified system.

The new system, AlabamaWorks, will seamlessly link employers looking for skilled workers with Alabamians seeking jobs or job training. Leaders say it’s the result of an ambitious, business-driven initiative and partnership between the private and public sectors.

At events in Montgomery and Birmingham, members of the Alabama Workforce Council unveiled the new AlabamaWorks name, logo, website and organizational structure for workforce development in Alabama. Zeke Smith, executive vice president at Alabama Power Co. and chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council, said the goal is to transform Alabama’s workforce development system into the best in the country in meeting the needs of businesses and job seekers.

“The Alabama Workforce Council and our partners are focused on helping transform the state’s workforce system to dramatically improve the livelihoods for millions of Alabama families for years to come,” Smith said. “We are doing that today by providing a tool to match the needs of employers with job seekers across our state to grow our economy and raise the standard of living for Alabamians.”

Today’s announcement marked a major milestone in the unification of Alabama’s workforce system, bringing together key components of the K-12 and two-year college systems, state workforce training and placement services, and industry. AlabamaWorks will more easily connect businesses with job seekers and help prepare workers by linking them to career and job training opportunities. Over the course of the next year, each of the state’s seven newly restructured Regional Workforce Councils will integrate its services into the new AlabamaWorks brand.

Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce and executive director of Alabama Industrial Development and Training (AIDT), said the effort to transform the state’s workforce system started several years ago with the state’s economic development strategic plan, known as “Accelerate Alabama.” He credited the leadership of Gov. Robert Bentley for ordering the development of the plan, business, education and workforce development leaders for working together on it, and the Alabama Legislature for funding it.

From the Accelerate Alabama plan was born the Alabama Workforce Council, Castile said, which made several recommendations based on information from businesses and Alabamians across the state to meet the job, education and training needs of the state.

“Among the recommendations was a branding and marketing campaign,” said Castile. “So as we come together today to show you our dynamic plan, we want to make sure the world knows that Alabama works.”

Bob Allen of IDEAS, a media and experience design company based in Orlando, Fla., hired to develop the plan, explained the months-long research and work that went into creating AlabamaWorks.

“The real reason you have such a robust, new workforce brand and workforce system in Alabama is because of Alabamians,” Allen said. “We got to go across the state, talking to thousands of Alabama — students, teachers, higher-ed educators, workforce professionals, industry and business leaders. Remarkably, there’s a strong and unified voice in Alabama that says, ‘Yes, we want to do this, we are committed to it, we are willing to do what’s needed to transform the state.”

George Clark, president of Manufacture Alabama and vice chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council, said the council made 10 funding requests to the Alabama Legislature, and “we were 10 for 10.”

“That demonstrates that we have the cooperation and support of education, business and industry, political leaders and everybody else connected. Why? I think the answer is obvious. Workforce development is critical to our existing industry. It is critical to economic development in the state,” Clark said.

The Birmingham announcement was held at Lawson State Community College’s Center for Automotive Excellence, which features robotics and “mechatronic labs” and helps trains technicians and other workers in technical fields.

Jeff Lynn, senior executive director of workforce and economic development for the Alabama Community College System, noted the venue and praised the partnership that community colleges have with of K-12 schools, the departments of Commerce and Labor, AIDT and business.

“What a great group, sitting down, solving problems, doing things that people typically don’t think government do well, collaborating, working together to help a great program work for our citizens,” Lynn said. “If you look at the jobs that we’re creating, in the past and in the future, all those jobs require at least a high school education or GED and postsecondary. So that’s where our community college programs come in. We get to play the fun part. We get to go meet the companies and find those programs, develop world-class education and trade programs that deliver more trained employees for our companies.”

Castile said the backbone of AlabamaWorks will be the seven local Regional Workforce Councils, local Alabama Career Centers and the new website, AlabamaWorks.com. “Our system is driven by local businesses and will therefore be responsive to the current and future needs of businesses in Alabama. Each Regional Workforce Council will be able to focus on the business sectors within its geographical area,” he said.

In a statement, Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said today’s announcement is about more than a new brand and logo. “It’s about taking Alabama to the national forefront of workforce development so that every person in Alabama who wants to find a job can, and so that every employer that comes to Alabama will be able to hire the skilled workers it needs. We truly believe that we are building a system that will soon become a national model.”

Fitzgerald Washington was working in the private sector with Buffalo Rock when the was named to the Alabama Workforce Council and later appointed by Gov. Bentley to serve as secretary of the Alabama Department of Labor. His department manages 48 career centers throughout the state that offer numerous job search resources to both job seekers and employers, but he said some citizens are unaware of those services.

“What a monumental day today is. I can’t tell you how excited I am about the announcement of AlabamaWorks and the Alabama workforce system,” Washington said. “Our workforce system in the past has been somewhat fragmented. Now, we have a system through AlabamaWorks that’s going to bring all these resources together to make sure that we get those resources to the people who have the greatest needs and move our workforce system forward.”

Deputy State Superintendent Philip Cleveland of the Alabama State Department of Education also welcomed today’s announcement. “Our K-12 system is greatly expanding the dual-eligible curriculum that allows high school students to graduate with the skills needed for one of the high-wage, high-skill jobs of the future. This will continue to grow as an important part of our Alabama workforce system,” Cleveland said in a statement.