1 year ago

Ivey administration’s workforce development efforts already paying dividends, set up future prosperity

MONTGOMERY — The day after Yellowhammer News published an exclusive interview with Governor Kay Ivey in which she explained that workforce development is key to the Alabama aerospace industry’s continued growth, the governor’s office released an impressive update on the state’s overall workforce development efforts.

Ivey also recognized that when the economy is strong and unemployment is historically low, like Alabama is experiencing now, the challenge is reaching individuals who need further preparation to enter, or re-enter, the workforce, just as the challenge for businesses is finding a sufficient number of skilled workers to keep up with growth.

“In order to meet the current and future demands of business and industry, more must be done to develop a workforce development system that offers a seamless educational journey for individuals to enter in-demand career pathways at every stage of life,” Ivey said in a statement on Tuesday.

The governor’s workforce development efforts began with her signature Strong Start, Strong Finish education initiative, which lays the groundwork to support the education to workforce pipeline. The initiative, announced in July 2017, focuses on three stages of education: 1) early childhood education, 2) computer science in middle school and high school and 3) workforce preparedness.

Additionally, Ivey has made it a priority of her administration to create the most effective workforce development programs possible for Alabamians across the state. To accomplish this goal, she recently established the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation (GOEWT), which Ivey told Yellowhammer News on Monday aligns workforce development funding with projects in the Yellowhammer State.

“Already, Alabama is taking the lead in workforce development efforts, which catches the attention of companies from around the globe and ultimately provides more opportunities for Alabamians,” Ivey remarked.

‘It’s a win-win situation’

Through apprenticeship expansion efforts, the governor is also positioning the workforce development programs across the state to work in the best interests of Alabamians.

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington told Yellowhammer News, “When discussing workforce development and ensuring that Alabama has qualified workers to fill all the high-wage, high-skill jobs that are coming, it’s important to remember that initiatives such as Apprenticeship Alabama and other on-the-job training programs can help bridge the gap in so many ways. They not only allow Alabama’s workers to learn a skill or retrain while bringing home a paycheck, but they also allow Alabama’s employers to build an already trained workforce, while saving on wages. It’s a win-win situation.”

On June 10, Ivey signed SB 295 into law. Sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), SB 295 expands the Apprenticeship Alabama Tax Credit by providing an additional $500 for hiring in-school youth apprentices. Additionally, SB 295 modifies the Apprenticeship Alabama Tax Credit to increase the base tax credit from $1,000 to $1,250. It increases the number of apprentices one employer may claim from five to 10, as well as the tax credit cap from $3 million to $7.5 million. The new law also established the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA).

“Getting both new high school graduates and existing workers prepared for the workforce with certified and marketable skills will not only provide better job opportunities, but also enhanced wages that can have a permanent, positive impact on the worker and their family,” Orr said in a statement.

The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship, when officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, will be Alabama’s state apprenticeship agency housed by the Alabama Department of Commerce. The AOA will serve as a registration agency for registered apprenticeships in the state.

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, we are moving to the next level of apprenticeship program development in our state,” AIDT Director Ed Castile advised. “Partnering with many Alabama companies, the Alabama Community College System, K-12 Education, the Alabama Workforce Council and our 7 Regional Workforce Councils we will be extremely successful in developing our skilled workforce through this new Alabama Office of Apprenticeship.  It is another ‘tool in the tool box’ to assist us in reaching the goals set forth in the Governor’s Success Plus plan.”

Important workforce development programs include Success Plus, AIDT and AlabamaWorks, too.

Public-private collaboration is especially crucial, as U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta stressed on Thursday during his visit to Huntsville’s Dynetics, which came after a tour of Calhoun Community College’s Decatur campus. Announcing at that time a $12 million federal grant to the Alabama Community College System for apprenticeships, Acosta noted that industry partners would provide additional matching funds to the relevant educational institutions to develop in-demand skills as part of their programs. This was highlighted by Ivey’s office on Tuesday.

“Alabama’s 24 community colleges are working every day within their local communities to ensure students, from high schoolers to adults looking to advance their skills, have a pathway to success through education and skills training,” ACCS Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker added in a statement.

“We are proud that our most recent efforts to expand apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities for thousands of Alabamians have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. This expansion will help individuals gain the real-world experience that business and industry is seeking as they hire for well-paying, in-demand jobs,” he concluded.

Additionally, in June, the state of Alabama received a $1.2 million federal grant expanding funding for state apprenticeships. Coinciding with the federal grant, the state legislature budgeted $1 million to offset the costs associated with dual enrollment courses and credential fees for apprentices. The grant coupled with the state investment will be used to provide scholarships for a dual enrollment or community college course that is part of apprentices’ related technical instruction.

“Alabama is a state so full of potential, both in the workforce opportunities we are seeing develop, as well as in the preparedness of its citizens to fulfill those workforce opportunities,” state Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey remarked.

“The aggressive advances we are seeing in workforce development efforts will open doors for professional, economic and industrial growth in our great state,” he continued. “We look forward to the shared vision of Alabama being the hallmark of a state booming with progress, and an education system primed to produce students who are well-equipped to meet the demands of a thriving workforce.”

Then, on June 24, Credential Engine awarded Alabama a $50,000 technical grant to support credential transparency. The Alabama Department of Commerce will serve as the fiscal agent and manager of this project.

Along with the Department of Commerce, the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation and a myriad of state education and workforce development agencies will collaborate to publish all of the certificates, licenses, traditional degrees and non-degree credentials offered in Alabama to the credential registry.

What does industry think of Alabama’s workforce development efforts?

While there is no doubt that the state’s workforce development plans and programming sound good on paper, results speak louder than words.

In this case, the results have been great, with companies continuing to choose the Yellowhammer State for new economic development projects and expansions, especially in the automotive and aerospace industries, for example.

Speaking to Yellowhammer News on Monday, Ivey said that Alabama’s workforce is at the very top of the list of issues discussed during recruitment pitches. She also explained that businesses have been very receptive to these pitches and happy with the state’s workforce development efforts.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said, “This is truly an exciting and pivotal point in our state’s history… Fortunately, Governor Ivey had the foresight to recognize that we must grow a workforce pipeline of available and highly-skilled Alabamians to meet our projected job growth.”

“The success of Alabama’s economic development team is directly related to the quality of the state’s workforce,” he continued. “Our success is producing the effect of putting more Alabamians on company payrolls across the state, and we are experiencing the lowest levels of unemployment in our history.”

How can the average Alabamian help?

While these workforce development policies and programs are being spearheaded at the very highest levels of government and private industry, each and every eligible Alabama voter can do their part in March 2020 to support these efforts.

On this primary election date, SB 397 will be up for a referendum of the people, and Ivey says this proposed educational reform is crucial for further workforce development gains.

“Education is the key to everybody’s prosperity,” she told Yellowhammer News.

The governor stressed that getting the state board of education functioning correctly will increase outcomes for all levels of education, from early childhood through workforce preparedness.

“I’m very optimistic that we can convince the people of Alabama that we need to start at the top (with the state board) to make these changes, and having an appointed board will be far more effective,” Ivey emphasized.

“You say, ‘Why?’ Well, right now board members are elected, and they have to worry about constituencies that put money into their campaigns,” she continued. “Why are our standards for teacher preparation programs at our four-year colleges not very strong? And you ask a board member that, and they say, ‘Well, we get pushback.’ On appointed boards, you don’t get pushback, you have a defined person that you’re responsible to and defined things we want to achieve — and I believe we can be more effective preparing our students pre-k through 12th grade and beyond [that way].”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Ledbetter: Alabama’s teachers are standing tall with return to classroom instruction

All of the personality traits, values and life lessons that we carry with us as adults were shaped and instilled in us by the people we encountered in childhood. For many, the strongest influences came from our schoolteachers, who opened new worlds of knowledge and taught us skills that remain with us today.

Consider for a moment the music teacher who taught you to play an instrument, the math teacher who led you to a love of numbers, the history teacher who brought to life the stories of our nation’s past, or the English teacher who inspired you to love great literature.

Teaching is one of the few professions whose impact continues to last for decades after the individual who does the job retires.

As many children across Alabama are preparing to return to school even while the coronavirus pandemic continues, teachers have never been more important or vital or deserving of our deepest appreciation.

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Returning to brick-and-mortar school instruction will, hopefully, restore a sense of normalcy to our children’s lives in these decidedly abnormal times.

A return to the classroom and even resuming the online instruction that some are adopting will also help our students maintain their education progress and continue the important social and emotional development that interaction with their peers and instructors allows.

Our English second language learners will receive the communication skills they need in order to better assimilate, and many low-income students will receive the healthy nourishment from the school lunch program that might be denied them at home.

Given the current circumstances and environment, I recognize that some of our public school employees may have a sense of trepidation about returning to school, and that is certainly understandable. Wearing a face mask to do something as simple as shopping for groceries, paying for gas or walking into a restaurant offers all of us a constant reminder that COVID-19 is a very contagious virus.

But our teachers and educators are setting their concerns aside and answering the call to duty.

I know that Gov. Kay Ivey, State Superintendent Eric Mackey and the staff of the Alabama Department of Education took great care in developing the “Roadmap to Reopening Alabama Schools,” and local school boards are being equally diligent in creating and implementing their own safety guidelines.

The importance of sanitization will be stressed more than ever before, and billions of dollars made available to Alabama through the federal CARES Act will help ensure that any resources that are needed to reopen schools safely will be readily available.

As the majority leader of the Alabama House, I can also offer assurances that the legislature stands ready to pass legislation or make appropriations that are necessary to ease the return to classroom instruction once we are in session.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an even deeper appreciation of the frontline heroes who have remained on the job and provided the most essential services throughout the crisis.

Doctors and nurses in our hospitals and health clinics; grocery store and other retail employees; law enforcement officers, emergency workers and firefighters; postal workers; sanitation workers; restaurant personnel; and those in dozens of other professions are among those who continued working even when times were their toughest.

I am proud to say that the teachers, school nurses, administrators and support personnel in Alabama’s schools also rank high upon the list of those who have stood tall, and their already invaluable service to our state is even more important to students and parents in each of our cities, towns and crossroads today.

Helen Keller, one of Alabama’s most inspirational figures, once said, “It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me.”

As I close by wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy school year, we would all do well to keep Helen Keller’s words in mind.

State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) serves as majority leader in the Alabama House of Representatives

5 hours ago

Alabama Ag Commissioner Pate gives update on unsolicited seed packages from China, urges public to stay ‘vigilant’

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) Commissioner Rick Pate gave an update Monday afternoon on the spate of seed packets from China that people across Alabama have received in recent weeks despite never having ordered anything.

Pate said that after the state seed labs had performed tests on the packets they had collected from individuals across Alabama, and none of them proved to be dangerous.

“Right at 50% of them proved be some kind of weed flower … 41% were vegetables, and 9% were herbs … we found no noxious compounds, no dangerous compounds,” said Pate at the event.

However, he warned, “They might send out the first seeds that weren’t treated with anything, have a sense of security come about, and then later send something out that could be harmful.”

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The commissioner further urged members of the public to refrain from planting any unsolicited seeds and continue to report them to the Department.

“At the very least something criminal has gone on here,” stated Pate, referencing laws that prevent seeds from being moved across state lines without being inspected by the relevant agencies.

Pate said his department had collected 252 seed samples as of Monday morning.

A total of 385 individuals in all but 11 of Alabama’s 67 counties have received one of the packets, according to information relayed at the press conference. State workers will be collecting the remaining samples soon.

(AL. Dept. of Ag/Contributed)

“Because we’ve got such a good food and drug lab, because we’ve got such a good seed lab, we knew this was inside of our comfort zone,” Pate said of the decision to conduct the seed tests in-house as opposed to shipping them to the federal government.

Andy Tipton, division director of Food Safety and Ag Compliance, said that 25 states had reported similar seed packets showing up at consumers’ doorsteps. He added that the ADAI was turning over all relevant info to the FBI, who were monitoring the situation.

Pate further told Yellowhammer News that one of the prevailing theories remained that the cause was an internet seller running a scam to artificially inflate their customer numbers and create opportunities for fake reviews.

He ended his press conference saying, “We have no idea the reason for this happening, but it doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant.”

Any Alabamian still receiving one of the packets can report it here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

5 hours ago

Alabama basketball star John Petty returning for senior season

University of Alabama star forward John Petty, Jr. will return for his senior season, the player announced on Monday.

The Huntsville native was a second-team All-SEC honoree this past season, after leading the Southeastern Conference in three-point percentage.

Petty was considering entering the 2020 NBA Draft, however he decided to return for a final season in Tuscaloosa after evaluating his prospects. Another college season could see Petty lock down his chance at being a first-round pick.

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Tide head coach Nate Oats released a statement on Monday afternoon celebrating Petty’s return.

“It’s great to have John back for his senior year,” Oats said. “He is certainly one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country which is extremely important to us with how we play.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal. Let’s get to work!” the coach concluded.

Follow along with the Bama men’s basketball program here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

State of Alabama, University of Alabama System officials unveil GuideSafe app aiming to keep schools virus-free

Key figures from Alabama’s government and university systems joined to announced the new GuideSafe platform that bills itself as the key for students to safely return to college campuses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The GuideSafe platform will help the state fulfill its promise to test every single college student before they return to campus, and the platform will provide a space for ongoing health monitoring throughout the semester.

The unveiling took place over videoconference, where State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John and other key players detailed the importance of GuideSafe to the upcoming semester.

GuideSafe was developed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and tech company MotionMobs. It will be provided to any educational institution in the state that wishes to use it.

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Governor Kay Ivey apportioned some of Alabama’s CARES Act funds for the development of GuideSafe and the universal free testing for college students.

St. John on Monday praised Ivey’s “decisive action to provide funding” for the testing initiative and other campus reopening measures.

(Click for higher resolution version that will open in new tab)

GuideSafe will be accessible via app on smartphones and tablets and via web browser on any computer. Students will be invited to join the platform in the coming weeks.

One of the key features of the GuideSafe app is that it will track the location of students via smartphone and then inform them if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall,” said UAB President Ray Watts.

The app also allows students and faculty to report symptoms as they experience them, and get directed to a nearby testing site if necessary.

“The combination of these tools enables every participating college, university and K-12 school to engage faculty, students and staff regarding on-going monitoring of symptoms, exposure and risks of acquiring COVID-19,” said Sue Feldman, professor and director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB.

A general factsheet on GuideSafe is available here.

Watch:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Trump fires TVA board chair after outsourcing uproar

President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he was removing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board chairman, Skip Thompson, an Alabamian.

Thompson, a resident of Decatur, is the president and CEO of Corporate Billing, a subsidiary of Birmingham-based National Bank of Commerce. He previously served as the president and CEO of both First American Bank in Decatur and First Commercial Bank in Huntsville, as well as serving on the board of Decatur Utilities.

Trump appointed Thompson to the TVA board in 2018. He was elected chairman of the board last year.

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The president on Monday cited TVA’s plan to outsource information technology jobs overseas as the reason for firing Thompson and one other board member. Trump warned the other board members that they would be next if the outsourcing continued. The president also called on them to replace the organization’s CEO, who Trump said was making far too much money.

The president added, “Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired.’”

The TVA is the electricity provider for much of North Alabama. Self-described as “a corporate agency of the United States,” it is regulated at the federal level and not under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) applauded Trump’s move on Monday.

“TVA fires AMERICANS & hires cheap foreign labor,” the North Alabama congressman tweeted. “TVA executive salaries EXORBITANT. TVA=NO competition, unlike private sector execs who compete to earn profits to earn pay… WAY TO GO [President Trump]!”

RELATED: Doug Jones: ‘The TVA has lost its way’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn