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Report describes steep challenges for Alabama’s primary workforce development goal

A new report out this week from the Business Education Alliance (BEA) warns that Alabama is not on track to hit its target of 500,000 skilled workers by 2025.

Not hitting the goal could potentially cause a glut of unfillable jobs in the state. Such a situation could have bitter consequences for Alabama’s economy and the state’s ability to keep up with the growth of neighboring states like Georgia and Tennessee.

The news comes at a time when the techniques employed by Alabama’s workforce development groups are winning praise on the national stage. The report from BEA does acknowledge that some programs are working, but it says they are not producing new workers at a high enough volume to meet demand.

The 500,000 skilled workers by 2025 benchmark was established by statewide groups in 2018 and is regarded by all of the relevant interests in Alabama as the major focus of the state’s government and business communities.

The 500,000 number will be necessary if Alabama is to fill the jobs of retiring workers while retaining the flexibility to attract new businesses.

If Alabama were to hit that target while experiencing its current rate of population growth, then 60% of the state’s workers would have some level of educational attainment beyond high school; such as an electrician certificate or traditional degree. In 2017, only 43% of Alabamian workers met that standard.

According to the BEA report, current projections have Alabama falling about 200,000 workers short of the goal.

The report describes how meeting the state’s workforce development goals lie at the nexus of both traditional youth education for those under age 25 and training for adults who do not have the necessary skills for modern jobs. It makes plain that Alabama’s goal cannot be achieved without investment in both areas.

The report cites as a red flag Alabama’s continually dismal grade school education scores. The National Educational Assessment of Educational Progress has Alabama ranked dead last among the 50 states in math and just barely above that for reading.

Alabama also has one of the highest percentages of working-age citizens with disabilities that prevent them from working. Among Alabamians 25-64, only 71.3% participate in the workforce. That rate is behind only West Virginia among American states.

Harrison Diamond is the Business Relations Officer in the office of Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Diamond, who has had a hand in making Huntsville Alabama’s most dynamic economy, offered his thoughts to Yellowhammer News via Twitter.

“Economic Growth (jobs, investment, etc) and human growth (education, healthcare, etc.) are like gears… They both drive each other and you can’t really have one without the other,” tweeted Diamond.

Those interested in reading the full report, including some evidence leading to potential solutions, can go here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.