1 year ago

Major employers join new Birmingham workforce-development program

You could feel it in the atmosphere. Excitement. Enthusiasm. Curiosity.

And maybe a little nervousness? No, not nervousness. More like anticipation.

“I knew what to expect. I researched the company,” said Brian Thomas. “And I went in confident. I wasn’t nervous at all – just ready to start working.”

Thomas, only moments before, was one of 20 recent graduates and rising seniors from Birmingham City Schools who were connected with paid apprenticeships at some of the area’s top employers. Those connections took place earlier this month following several rounds of interviews at the Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum. Students rotated from table to table, speaking with different companies, sharing their career goals and showing employers the skills and benefits they could bring to their workplace.

The format – think speed-dating-meets-workforce-development – was ideal, offering each employer and student the chance to get a feel for which workplace would be the best fit.

Questions were friendly but strategic. Students were looking for signs that the employers could help them reach their professional goals; employers were looking to ensure the types of jobs they offer would match what the students were seeking. Participating companies represented four industry sectors: finance and insurance, healthcare and life sciences, energy and engineering, and digital technology.

Before long, the connections were made.

It’s all part of a new program called Birmingham Promise.

In its pilot stage, Birmingham Promise is an initiative of Mayor Randall Woodfin in conjunction with school leaders and area employers. The idea is to give young people on-the-job exposure to rewarding career paths. The apprenticeships will last for a few months, equipping students with valuable skills and long-term connections. Students can then build on their experience as they continue their education – or enter the workforce full time.

Following this summer’s pilot, the program is expected to grow and reach more students beginning this fall.

Woodfin said Birmingham Promise is about providing new opportunities to thrive in today’s economy, adding, “We have to change the status quo. We need to change our approach to preparing our builders of the future.” Students in the inaugural class of Birmingham Promise were paired with companies such as Regions BankAlabama PowerShipt and Brasfield & Gorrie.

Students shared with Birmingham Promise organizers the industry sectors that were of the most interest to them. Each was assigned to a handful of interviews with companies representing those sectors. Organizers then used the interviews to determine which students would be paired with which companies for summer apprenticeships.

Thomas, who just graduated with honors from Huffman High School, was encouraged by his mother to pursue an apprenticeship at Regions. At first, he didn’t realize how many careers intersect with banking.

“I was like, ‘Regions is just a bank,’” he recalled. But then, “I learned more about the corporate business and the other opportunities that they have – whether it’s lawyers, IT development and other areas. There are many careers you can get into at Regions besides just the bank aspect.”

Technology resonates most with Thomas. Following the rounds of interviews, he and the 19 others in the pilot program lined up, waiting to be formally paired with employers that had been designated as a match. Think National Signing Day meets career training.

Thomas got what he came for – an apprenticeship with Regions. His mother is encouraged to see a clearer path between schools and employers.

“It’s like having a career fair in the school. But this time, they get that on-the-job training,” Laquita Thomas said. “They are able to figure out, ‘This is exactly what I want to do.’ It gives them that next level of hope – that they’re not just dreams, they’re aspirations.”

Woodfin celebrated with apprentices as they were matched with employers.

“Birmingham has always been the Magic City – a city of promise,” Woodfin said. “The promise has always been more than our steel mills; it’s always been more than our startups or our infrastructure. It has always been its people. These students who are here today represent Birmingham’s true promise.”

Ana Gregory is another example of Birmingham’s true promise.

“This is so exciting. All the energy here is just amazing,” the Huffman grad said as she scanned the room.

Speaking of energy, that’s the line of work she’s pursuing — specifically, mechanical engineering and how it complements the energy industry.

“Since I was 7, I’ve been building – destroying, as my mom would call it – and putting back together a lot of things, from vacuums to flashlights,” she said. “I just love being hands-on. You name it, if I can mold it into something, I will do it.”

Her employer match for the apprenticeship? Alabama Power.

“I’m just super-excited to meet people who are successful in what they do so I can learn from them,” Gregory said. “Meeting people that are actually offering me a job to learn about what they do, and being able to have hands-on experience, I’m super-grateful and thankful that I’m able to be here.”

Leroy Abrahams, head of Community Affairs for Regions, said there are several reasons for employers to get involved in workforce-development programs.

“Having really good, well-trained people is critical, and it’s worth it for a business to invest in that,” Abrahams said. “Because they’re investing in their own success.”

Not only does Birmingham Promise connect students with future careers and employers with future professionals; career training helps the city, and its people, remain competitive.

“We live in a global economy,” Abrahams added. “So for the students who we’re speaking with today, and the companies that are interviewing them, it’s not only a matter of how competitive we are in Birmingham, it’s about how competitive we are across the state, across the country and beyond. That’s why it’s so important for companies to invest both in the workforce of today and the workforce of the future.”

Abrahams pointed to Regions’ ongoing commitment to fostering more inclusive prosperity.

“This is one of the most powerful ways we can make a difference as an organization,” he said. “The employers who are here today are connecting people with opportunities to grow and succeed. This is creating not only short-term benefits, but long-term benefits that I believe can impact Birmingham for generations.”

Birmingham Promise is addressing an urgent community need. Woodfin shared numbers that underline the importance of new opportunities. Specifically, he said:

  • 50% of students in Birmingham City Schools live in poverty.
  • 40% of the city’s potential workers are on the sidelines and not in the labor force.
  • Of the 54% of Birmingham students who pursue college, they are carrying, on average, $31,000 in debt.
  • The city has the 16th-highest youth unemployment rate in America.

The numbers can be discouraging.
But by taking a united approach, the city, the school system and major employers are working to reverse trends.

“Together, we will build the infrastructure that our schools and our employers need to scale youth apprenticeships,” Woodfin said. “This type of program – this pilot apprenticeship – will lay the groundwork for a larger Birmingham Promise that will combine secondary and post-secondary apprenticeships with college scholarships to develop pathways for higher-quality jobs in our community.”

Additional information can be found here.

This story originally appeared on Regions Bank’s Doing More Today website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

7 Things: Vaccine skepticism grips nation, UA hunts silent outbreaks, Alabama’s initial unemployment claims are steady and more …

7. Alabama’s richest man kidnapped

  • The retired CEO of EBSCO Industries, Elton B. Stephens, Jr,, with a family net worth of $4 billion dollars was kidnapped and held for ransom one week ago, but he is now back home after the arrest of two people involved in the caper.
  • Matthew Amos Burke, 34, and Tabatha Nicole Hodges, 33, broke into Stephen’s house allegedly stealing jewelry and three firearms before waking the home’s occupant. They took him to a trailer in St. Clair County and forced him to wire $250,000 into their account before releasing him.

6. Antifa is real

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  • FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Homeland Security Committee and said, “Antifa is a real thing. It’s not a group or an organization. It’s a movement, or an ideology may be one way of thinking of it.” He went on to say that some of their investigations have been into situations with people who identify as Antifa.
  • During his testimony, he also confirmed where domestic terrorism threats are concerned. He outlined, “[R]acially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group. And within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that.”

5. A child abuser was released through bail program promoted by Harris and Biden

  • The Minnesota Freedom Fund was promoted by staffers for former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), and one of the men released by the bail fund was a child abuser.
  • The man in question, Timothy Wayne Columbus, was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct for a sexual assault on an eight-year-old in 2015, and when he was bailed out of jail, he filed it through the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

4. Dems think they can push Biden to be more progressive

  • While in an interview with “Just the News,” U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) spoke about the difference between U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden, mostly noting the difference in how “progressive” they are.
  • Ocasio-Cortez honestly stated that she believes more progressive members “can likely push Vice President Biden to a more progressive direction across policy issues,” specifically mentioning foreign policy and immigration.

3. Unemployment remains steady

  • For the last couple of weeks, initial unemployment claims in Alabama have remained mostly unchanged, according to a new report by the Alabama Labor Department. There has only been a decrease of 54 claims week-to-week.
  • From this past week, there were 8,848 initial claims, but in the week previous there were 8,902 initial claims, which is only a 0.6% decrease. However, 4,485 of the most recent claims were due to the coronavirus pandemic.

2. Alabama tweaks its testing strategy

  • The University of Alabama continues to be bullish on the school’s response to the coronavirus, so much so that Chancellor Finis St. John says the school is testing a sampling of asymptomatic students, teachers and staffers to seek out silent outbreaks and have only found three positive tests out of 400+ tests of that sample.
  • Echoing the situation with Big Ten football and the SEC, St. John was happy that Alabama stayed the course, saying they “trusted our plan and our people and had the courage to see it through.” He pointed out that schools that canceled or delayed in-person learning before the semester started or soon after returning may have jumped the gun.

1. Majority of people won’t trust a vaccine released before the election

  • A new Economist/YouGov poll shows that 59% of people wouldn’t trust a coronavirus vaccine released before the general election on November 3, due to safety and efficacy concerns.
  • Even 50% of Republicans say they wouldn’t trust a vaccine released before the election, and only 39% of people plan to get vaccinated when it’s available. According to the poll, 72% of participants said they’re concerned about the safety of the vaccine.

3 hours ago

Montgomery’s Joe Espy rolls off University of Alabama System board of trustees

Joe Espy III on Thursday served his final meeting as a member of the University of Alabama System board of trustees.

Espy, a world-class attorney based in Montgomery, has served on the prestigious board since 2000 representing Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

He graduated from the University of Alabama in 1969, earning a Bachelor’s Degree through the School of Commerce and Business Administration after serving as SGA president. Espy then graduated with a Juris Doctorate in 1972 from the University of Alabama School of Law.

The distinguished trial lawyer would go on to serve three terms as president pro tem of the UA System board of trustees. Espy has previously been named to Yellowhammer Multimedia’s annual list of the most powerful and influential Alabamians.

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His departure from the UA System board is due to Espy no longer being eligible for another term because of the maximum age limit.

He is now a trustee emeritus, joining a list of legendary Alabamians who hold the same title.

Fellow trustees honored Espy at the conclusion of Thursday’s business with a formal resolution and a slew of glowing remarks.

Trustee Karen Brooks of the Seventh Congressional District moved to consider the resolution while holding up a small placard with Espy’s headshot on it. She also displayed a poster containing several Espy images in the background behind her, with the meeting being held virtually and live streamed.

Judge John England, Jr., also representing the Seventh Congressional District, was the first to speak.

“You know, I have to be careful,” England quipped. “You can’t say too many good things about lawyers.”

England continued to praise Espy as “a man of integrity” who “cares about this state, this [System] and the people in this state.”

“One of the things I’ve learned on this board is that it’s an honor to serve, but it’s an even greater honor to be able to serve with individuals like Joe Espy,” England commented. “And I mean that.”

RELATED: UA System Board of Trustees names freshman hall for John England, Jr.

Trustee Marietta Urquhart of the First Congressional District spoke next.

She lauded Espy’s record of “servant leadership,” calling him “an example to us all.”

Urquhart added that trustees moving forward will be using the litmus test of, “What would Joe Espy do?” when making tough decisions.

Next up was Brooks.

“I’ll tell you, you have been our quarterback,” she said to Espy.

“We are eternally grateful to you for being our friend and for being such a great leader,” Brooks remarked. “The legacy I hope you leave all of us is ‘put students first.’ Your passion for students is second to none.”

She outlined that she will be taking her Espy placard to every subsequent meeting to remind the board to “put the students first.”

“Matter of fact, I think I’ll give each trustee one,” Brooks stated.

Outgoing pro tem Ron Gray of the Fifth Congressional District concluded the remarks.

“Joe, this board, the University of Alabama System and the state of Alabama owes you a debt of gratitude for your 20 years of service on this board,” Gray said. “Thank you for your service and steadfast leadership.”

Following the unanimous passage of the resolution celebrating and honoring Espy’s exemplary service, the man himself delivered some brief remarks and humbly thanked his fellow trustees.

WATCH:

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

3 hours ago

What impact will Chad Morris have on the Auburn offense in 2020?

Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris’ relationship stretches back decades at this point. When Morris was hired, he told the story of badgering Malzahn for information on his innovative offensive style multiple times until finally wearing him down into sharing some secrets when they were high school coaches in Texas and Arkansas, respectively.

Those early interactions paved the way to a friendship between two men that would eventually walk many of the same roads from coaching in high school to the SEC.

When Morris was let go as Arkansas’ head coach in 2019, it did not take long for the two friends to decide to work together in 2020. In a normal offseason the biggest story for Auburn football would have been the hiring of Chad Morris as offensive coordinator. Clearly, 2020 has been nowhere near normal.

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Today, we take a deeper look at potential impacts the new hire could have on The Plains this season. Morris’ input in the following three areas could unlock the Auburn offense’s full potential this year.

Passing Game
Gus Malzahn-led teams rarely have real issues running the football. The Auburn Tigers have run the ball more frequently and effectively than most teams in the country during Malzahn’s tenure. The aspect of the offense that often struggles to find consistency has been the passing game.

While Chad Morris patterned his offensive style directly after Malzahn, in the past decade he has had more production throwing the ball than his current head coach. It appears that Chad Morris simply likes to throw the ball more than Malzahn. In the 10 seasons that Morris has been a college coach, his offenses have attempted at least 34 pass attempts a game nine times. Malzahn, on the other hand, has never had a season where his team attempted more than 30 passes per game.

Beyond a sheer disparity in volume, there is also a difference in the kind of passes that the offenses frequently attempt. Chad Morris was a much earlier adopter of the RPO (run-pass option) and also tends to have more passes target the middle of the field. Malzahn’s passing game has been primarily based around deep shots off play action or various screens that attack the perimeter quickly.

All of those passing schemes (and more) are effective when called cleverly and executed properly. It will likely be an indication of Morris’ involvement if the Tigers average somewhere near 35 pass attempts per game with more targets happening over the middle of the field this season.

Personnel
When referencing personnel, we are simply pointing out the grouping of players on the field and how they are deployed on a given play. Gus Malzahn tends to favor two backs (tailback and H-back) and three receivers. Chad Morris on the other hand, has deployed one tailback, one tight end and three receivers as his most common grouping.

The use of an H-back versus a tight end may seem small, but it can lead to pretty significant differences in the choices that opposing defenses make to counter an offense. Some tight ends and H-backs are interchangeable, which can be a strength if used creatively. However, most H-backs are primarily blockers (like an I-formation fullback), whereas tight ends are valuable targets over the middle of the field in the passing game and valuable blockers on the edge in the running attack.

For example, last season at Arkansas, TE Cheyene O’Grady accounted for 33 catches for 372 yards along with three touchdown receptions in only seven games played. By contrast, Auburn’s John Samuel Shenker and Harold Joiner combined for nine catches, 129 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games last season.

Chad Morris’ history of using the tight end along with a renewed focus on recruiting the tight end position my signal more use of that position going forward. Expect to see a continuation of the use of an H-back, but a dramatic uptick in the use of the tight end position could point to Chad Morris exerting his influence on the gameplan.

Pace
Auburn fans are likely familiar with the fact that Gus Malzahn literally wrote the book on the hurry up no huddle offense. Clearly, the use of pace was one of the key factors in Malzahn’s rise as coach, and it continues to be a weapon today.

However, last week when Chad Morris addressed the media, he seemed to indicate a slightly different take on how an offense’s pace of play should be used in today’s game. In Morris’ opinion, it is now less important to snap the ball as quickly as possible every play than it is to be able to change the speed of play effectively.

Morris conveyed that he hopes to use versatile players that are able to line up in different places and perform multiple skills so that when Auburn gains an advantage in matchups, the offense can then speed up to require the defense to remain on the field and at a disadvantage.

It will be interesting to see if a revamped passing game, new personnel groupings, varied pace or any other noticeable wrinkles, coincide with Chad Morris’ arrival on The Plains this fall.

Auburn’s offense must take the next step to being a consistently explosive group this year to contend for the SEC championship. If Morris can facilitate that production, then the Tigers will have a chance to make the 2020 season one that Auburn fans remember fondly for years to come.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

16 hours ago

Regions Bank offering disaster recovery assistance to Alabama customers impacted by Sally

Regions Bank on Thursday evening announced a series of generous financial services that are available to help people and businesses in portions of Alabama, Florida and Mississippi that were negatively affected by Hurricane Sally this week.

According to the Birmingham-based company, options include payment extensions, the waiving of certain fees and interest rate discounts, along with additional offers.

“Regions Bank has been part of the Gulf Coast and our inland communities for many years, and we will be here in the days, weeks and months to come as storm recovery moves forward,” stated John Turner, president and CEO of Regions Financial Corp.

“These financial services are designed to make the recovery easier, and we encourage all customers impacted by Sally to contact us and discuss your individual needs,” he continued.

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Disaster recovery financial services available for a limited time will include the following:

  • No check-cashing fee for FEMA-issued checks cashed at Regions branches in impacted areas
  • Regions Mortgage Disaster Relief Purchase and Renovation loan programs
  • Personal and business loan payment assistance
  • Regions fees will be waived when the bank’s customers use other banks’ ATMs in the impacted areas for 30 days beginning Friday, Sept. 18
  • One penalty-free CD withdrawal
  • An interest rate discount of 0.50% on new personal unsecured loans
  • Business loan payment deferrals available up to 90 days beginning Friday, Sept. 18
  • Payment extensions available for qualified credit card holders
  • An interest rate discount of 0.50% on standard rates for new business loans and/or lines of credit up to $1 million to help with recovery needs in affected areas
  • An interest rate discount of 0.50% on a new unsecured business term loan of up to $50,000 with a term of up to 36 months, including waived origination or loan document fees and options for the first payment to be deferred up to 90 days

People and businesses in need of assistance are encouraged to contact Regions to discuss individual needs and sign up for applicable services.

More information from Regions can be accessed here.

Additionally, for questions regarding a mortgage, customers can call Regions  at 1-800-986-2462. For assistance regarding home equity and other consumer loans, dial 1-866-298-1113. The general number of 1-800-411-9393 is available for help with other questions and general banking needs.

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

17 hours ago

One of Alabama’s richest men kidnapped in Birmingham home; Suspects arrested

Elton B. Stephens, Jr., the retired CEO of EBSCO Industries, was reportedly kidnapped from his bed last Friday and held for ransom. He is currently safe, and two suspects are in custody.

EBSCO is one of the state’s largest privately held companies, with annual sales of about $3.2 billion as of 2018 counting subsidiaries. Stephens is the son of the company’s late founder. Their family was estimated to have a net worth of $4 billion as of 2014, per Forbes.

Alabama Media Group on Thursday reported that Blount County’s Matthew Amos Burke, 34, and Tabatha Nicole Hodges, 33, have been charged with burglary, kidnapping an adult for ransom, extortion and theft of property.

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The pair allegedly broke into a Birmingham home Stephens is renting in the early morning hours of this past Friday. When Stephens awoke that morning, Burke was standing over him, per reports.

Burke and Hodges are alleged to have robbed the house of valuables and three firearms.

They reportedly threatened to kill Stephens if he did not comply with them or if he attempted to call for help.

“They took him to a trailer in St. Clair County where they had him wire $250,000 into their account. They returned him to his home about 4:30 p.m. [on Friday]. Police were called,” Alabama Media Group wrote.

Law enforcement officials declined comment on the pending case. Stephens says he did not previously know the suspects.

Stephens’ attorney released a statement, saying: “Elton Stephens Jr. was kidnapped in a home invasion last Friday. I ask that his privacy be respected by the press and the public to allow him time and space to process and deal with these very traumatizing circumstances.”

“We are thankful and grateful for the hard work of the Birmingham Police Department, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s office for their hard work in investigating this horrid life experience for Mr. Stephens,” the attorney concluded.

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