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Jimmy Baker: Bold, foundational changes needed to grow and progress Alabama’s workforce

Alabama’s leaders are rightly focused on increasing our state’s labor force participation. At a time when three quarters of in-demand, livable wage jobs require a postsecondary credential, we at the Alabama Community College System believe a bold and foundational change that centers on high school students and adults is needed.

We can deliver it.

Our plan is the Alabama Career Roadmap. The Alabama Career Roadmap fuels opportunities for every Alabama high school student to make informed, intentional decisions about their future after high school. In this plan, every Alabama high school senior will have earned at least one postsecondary credit or workforce credential by 2029, better equipping them for success in Alabama’s workforce.

In addition, the Alabama Career Roadmap more aggressively deploys our existing efforts to assist adults with postsecondary and specialized skills training that helps them progress in the workforce.

There are many reasons the Alabama Career Roadmap is needed. Almost 100,000 residents aged 18-24 in Alabama are neither working or in school. This age group makes up a sizable portion of the state’s workforce.

The situation is urgent. There are only 38 available workers for every 100 open jobs. Sixteen percent of the state’s population lives in poverty.

We intend to change that.

We urge policymakers to consider the significant contributions community colleges have already made. Overall enrollment at Alabama’s community and technical colleges has increased at a higher rate than community colleges nationally and four-year universities statewide. Our current dual enrollment programs exceed 29,000 students, which represents a 159% increase since the Legislature first funded the program in the 2014-15 school year.

We are engaged with more than 5,200 companies who trust us to build customized work-based learning opportunities to meet their hiring needs. The ACCS Innovation Center’s Skills for Success courses have helped train more than 11,000 high school students and adults for postsecondary credentials. Alabama’s adult education programs are ramping up to identify those individuals who need remedial education assistance to prepare them for postsecondary education and/or workforce training.

Thanks to Alabama’s legislators, our work continues. At least one workforce-related capital improvement project is underway at each of the 24 community and technical colleges in the state. These projects are customized to meet local workforce needs.

We are the community. We do what we do because the Alabama Legislature established the Alabama Community College System 61 years ago to serve the needs of every community in the state. We live, work and serve alongside the residents we support. Families and school systems already know us and trust in the services we deliver.

We ask the state’s leaders to continue traveling this journey with us and invest in our plans for the future.

Jimmy H. Baker is Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System. To learn more about the system’s 24 colleges, programs and services, visit www.accs.edu

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