7 months 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)

17 mins ago

State Rep. Easterbrook: No significant highway improvements from ALDOT in rural SW Alabama since 1983 — Calls for U.S. Hwy 45 widening

If you ever make a trip to Millry, Silas, Coffeeville, Grove Hill, or any of the other small towns that dot the map in rural southwestern Alabama, you’ll discover places that have gone largely unchanged for the past several decades.

While some may think that is a good thing, it is, in part, a product of being isolated from the rest of Alabama. That has come at the cost of a decline in various quality of life factors, including health care and education.

Those areas to the north of Mobile include Choctaw, Washington and Clarke Counties, which are cut off from the rest of the state except for three U.S. Highways, only one of which has seen a significant improvement in the last 50 years. U.S. Highways 43, 45 and 84 serve as the main thoroughfares for that region of the state and have all existed in some form or another since the 1930s.

However, State Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale) contends if rural economic development is a priority for Alabama’s policymakers, improvements must be made. During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Easterbrook made that case and noted the last significant highway improvement for this region came in the 1980s under then-House Speaker Joe McCorquodale (D-Jackson) with the widening of U.S. Highway 43 from Mobile County to Thomasville in northern Clarke County.


“My district, as you said, covers Choctaw, Clarke and Washington County,” Easterbrook said. “The only real state improvement — the last real state improvement in that district was when Joe McCorquodale was Speaker of the House in 1983. They four-laned Highway 43 — four-laned to Thomasville. It stopped there. So you really only have access headed south.”

Easterbrook explained the struggles of recruiting industry to his House district, which includes all of Washington County, most of Choctaw and Clarke Counties, and a portion of Marengo County, all adjacent to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

“Industry follows infrastructure,” he added. “They like transportation. It’s a huge part of operating expenses. It’s killing rural Alabama — specifically Southwest Alabama. If you look at the map, there is no four-lane access from the Washington County — from I-65 in Mobile, all the way to I-20.”

According to Easterbrook, U.S. Highway 45 would be an ideal improvement for his district. U.S Highway 45 is four-laned from the Alabama-Mississippi state line north to Meridian, Miss., where it connects to Interstates 20 and 59, and then continues north as a major four-lane north-south thoroughfare in Mississippi.

“Highway 45 is one of those I’m highly interested in,” he said. “It’s the deadliest highway in the state. It’s four-laned from Chicago, Illinois all the way to the Washington County line. In 1992, when they passed the gas bill then, it was written into the law that Highway 45 would be four-laned. The next session, they opened it up and took it out. Highway 45, we had five deaths in December alone. Most of the accidents on Highway 45 were head-on collisions. It is a deadly highway … I think it is because of the highway conditions. If you bottleneck everything down from the four-lane coming all the way in, then the highway is hills and hollows and bad curves everywhere.”

Alabama Department of Transportation highway map, 2019

Easterbrook lamented the lack of encouragement he has received from the Ivey administration, noting that he had met with both Alabama Department of Transportation director John Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey personally, but was informed that despite the public safety elements, those projects did not meet the criteria to be a priority.

“I have met with both,” he explained. “I have not seen the encouragement yet. I met with Mr. Cooper, they talk about a formula they use to choose which road comes first, and obviously, they rank congestion number one. Safety is not a high priority nor rural economic development. If it was, you’d see the money coming out to go to those sites. We don’t see it.”

Choctaw County is one of 12 counties in Alabama without four-lane highway access to the Interstate highway system. Clarke and the far eastern portion of Washington are served by U.S. Highway 43. Easterbrook noted that beyond U.S. Highway 43, West Alabama was grossly underserved.

“Just get a state map and look at it — there is not any four-lane access all the way from I-65 to I-20 in Tuscaloosa,” Easterbrook said. “It’s hard for me to imagine how one-fourth of the state does not have four-lane access. To me, it has to come down to votes. In that area, the population is not that high. So, it gets overlooked. And if we are really serious about rural economic development, then we have to have the four-lane access.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 hours ago

Jalen Hurts missed grandfather’s funeral for Senior Bowl practice — ‘Incredibly difficult’

Publicly this past week, it appeared that former University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was enjoying his return to the state as he prepared for Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.

However, under the surface, Hurts has also been hurting.

According to a report by NFL.com, Hurts’ maternal grandfather passed away on January 13. His funeral was Wednesday during a daily Senior Bowl Week practice.

Since Hurts had committed to play in the Senior Bowl before the funeral was scheduled and the week’s practices are integral to NFL scouts evaluating Hurts ahead of April’s NFL Draft, he missed the funeral to stay in Mobile this week.


“He’s a team player,” Hurts’ mother told NFL.com on Friday. “Even though that was family, he’s worked all his life to get here and this is a critical time. He’s very, very family-oriented.”

Nicole Lynn, Hurts’ agent, reportedly described the two as very close.

“Jalen had an incredibly difficult decision to make after finding out his grandpa’s funeral would be during the Wednesday practice of the Senior Bowl,” Lynn said in a statement to NFL.com. “With a heavy heart, Jalen ultimately felt his grandpa would want him to keep his commitment and play in the game — so Jalen decided to play. I would be lying if I said this week has not been extremely difficult for Jalen considering the circumstance, but I admire his strength through it all.”

Incredibly, playing through the pain, Hurts shown bright during the Senior Bowl Week practices.

Teammates voted Hurts as the South Team Offensive Practice Player of the Week among the quarterbacks over the likes of Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

Hurts’ mother, citing his maturity and compassion, said “it’s hard for me to put into words” how proud she is of the former Tide star. Her comments came after the Senior Bowl Experience’s Meet the Players event, in which Hurts drew a huge crowd of fans trying to get his autograph and visit with the player.

“I’m in awe of the lives that he impacts, but just his character alone,” Hurts’ mother added. “It almost doesn’t feel real to me. Even today, all these people in line to see him with their Alabama gear on.”

In Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, Hurts went 6/13 passing for 58 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception.

The 2020 NFL Draft will be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas, NV.

RELATED: Hurts on Saban: ‘He’s been nothing but supportive’ — ‘It was great to see him’

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

2 hours ago

Auburn basketball to host ESPN’s College GameDay for first time

The basketball version of ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Auburn for the first time ever on Saturday, February 1.

The national show is set to broadcast prior to Auburn’s upcoming top-20 matchup with Kentucky.

Host Rece Davis (an alumnus of the University of Alabama) and analysts Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg will be live from Auburn Arena, beginning at 10:00 a.m. CT on ESPN.

According to the university, this marks the first time Auburn has been featured on the show as a host or visiting team. Head coach Bruce Pearl has made four previous appearances on the show when he was coaching at Tennessee.


The Tigers have split the last six meetings with the Wildcats, including winning two of the last three inside Auburn Arena.

Additionally, Countdown to GameDay Live will serve as the pregame show to the pregame show. Each week, ESPN’s Rece Davis, Jason Fitz and Christine Williamson will join a wide array of ESPN college basketball analysts and reporters. The show will premiere this Saturday across Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the ESPN App.

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

4 hours ago

Interview Day brings Alabama high schoolers together with employers

More than 250 high school seniors met with representatives from almost 30 companies at the Bessemer Civic Center for an Interview Day event designed to link those entering the workforce with those looking to hire.

The students were from 14 high schools across a six-county area (Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker).

Interview Day was the culmination of preparations the students made during the first semester of their senior year of school. From developing soft skills to working on resumes, the students came into the event prepared to put their best foot forward.


Interview Day pairs Alabama high school seniors with companies from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The event was presented by Central Six AlabamaWorks and the Onin Group in cooperation with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce58 Inc. and Central Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment.

Companies were from a wide range of industries, including automotive, distribution, construction and skills trades, health care and hospitality.

“The reason why this program is so successful is that we’re addressing a gap,” said Tiffany Bishop, regional workforce development manager with Onin Group. “We have students who are going into unemployment and then we have employers that are looking for good talent, and all we’re doing is trying to bridge the gap to help them find each other.”

The effort comes as Alabama announces it ended 2019 with record low unemployment of 2.7% in December.

“I’m so proud to be able to close out this decade with record-breaking economic measures,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “All year long, we’ve had good news to share, and to be able to end the year, and the decade, on such a positive note is wonderful. Earlier this year, Alabama had never reported an unemployment rate lower than 3%, and now we’ve had one for the last three months! Nearly 84,000 more people have jobs now than last year. I’m excited about the path that Alabama is on, and the positive impacts this news has on our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

6 hours ago

Rep. Mike Rogers: Donald Trump is the ‘most pro-life president ever’

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL) strongly commended President Donald Trump and the thousands of pro-life Americans who gathered in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the March for Life event.

“This week marked the 47th anniversary of the disastrous Roe v. Wade decision that cast a dark pall over the soul of our nation,” Rogers said in a statement. “Every person who has gathered in Washington for the march today is joined in spirit with millions of Americans across our land who staunchly believe in the sanctity of life.”


Rogers then went on to discuss President Trump and his strong support for a pro-life agenda:

I am especially proud President Trump will address the march and be the first sitting president to do so. President Trump is the most pro-life president ever to sit in the White House.  Last year, 58 pro-life laws were passed across the nation. It just shows how important and precious the lives of these unborn babies are to so many. Momentum is on our side. We must keep fighting

“As a Christian and the father of three beautiful children, I will always stand up for the rights of these precious lives and be a voice for them,” Rogers concluded.

The 47th annual March for Life was attended by thousands who celebrate the sanctity of life from conception to death and advocate for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion and has resulted in an estimated 60 million deaths of unborn children.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter