4 months ago

Shift to knowledge-based economy driving Birmingham’s workforce development efforts

In crafting what he calls a “supercharged” workforce development program, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin drew from his own early experience in the workforce as well as input from some of his city’s largest job creators.

Woodfin sat down recently with Yellowhammer News to outline his city’s innovative approach to workforce development through its Birmingham Promise – an apprenticeship and scholarship program made possible by a public-private partnership with area employers.

Having been part of a program where he left class early to attend a job in his junior and senior years of high school, Woodfin learned invaluable lessons as part of that work experience.

“I tell people I am able to be mayor because at my first job at a grocery store I got trained in soft skills and never looked back,” he said.

And feedback from employers has helped shape the direction of the program.

“As mayor, I’m afforded the opportunity to talk to CEOs all the time in various sectors,” Woodfin explained. “They talk about their workforce gaps. We also talk about how do we recruit industry to the city and expand and grow jobs. You do that by investing in your youngest generation and investing in your workforce. This is a full down payment on investing in our workforce.”

With September designated as National Workforce Development month, numerous ongoing campaigns have developed to highlight the scope of Alabama’s workforce development demands.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, visited Tanner, Alabama, Tuesday to support an apprenticeship program conducted through the National Association of Manufacturing.

Woodfin leads a city facing a welcome shift in the focus of its economy. He believes Birmingham Promise will meet those needs under what he calls “a very sustainable model.”

It is a model that will be tested by changing workforce needs.

The challenges of a new economy

Josh Carpenter, director of economic development for Birmingham, described to Yellowhammer News the fact that the city’s workforce needs have altered as a result of a shift to a knowledge-based economy.

Carpenter pointed to the online delivery service Shipt, which employs more than 1,000 people in Birmingham, to show that the skills for a digital-based company are far different than those emphasized in more traditional career training. He said a whole new group of innovators have made Birmingham their home and in doing so present more workforce challenges.

Woodfin called workforce development a “high priority” for his administration and envisions Birmingham Promise as the primary initiative for meeting those challenges.

Students in their junior and senior years will have access to apprenticeships in industry clusters which include business and finance, energy and engineering, healthcare and life sciences and information technology.

Birmingham school system graduates will have access to support for full-time apprenticeships or last-dollar funding at two-year and four-year public colleges in Alabama. Last-dollar funding means the program supplements any tuition balance after scholarships and grants from other sources have been paid out to the enrollee.

To be eligible for the scholarship program, students must live in Birmingham and have graduated from a Birmingham public school. Scholarship funds are awarded proportionally to the student’s time in the school system in order to maintain fairness and prevent misuse of the program.

The Birmingham Promise was one of nine programs to receive a grant from the Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship (PAYA). Funders for PAYA include Ballmer Group, Bloomberg Philanthropies and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Promise partners in Birmingham and the surrounding region include large employers in healthcare, energy, construction, banking, manufacturing and insurance.

Funding from these partners will largely sustain the program.

‘Birmingham’s competitive advantage’

One such partner is Lee Styslinger III, chairman and CEO of Altec, Inc. Styslinger has served on President Donald Trump’s commission on American manufacturing. He is also part of an ongoing national effort to ensure workers acquire the necessary skills in a rapidly changing economy.

Styslinger views an increased emphasis on workforce development as essential to growth.

“The Birmingham Promise represents a transformational investment in the future of our region’s workforce,” he told Yellowhammer News. “In a knowledge-based economy, a skilled workforce will become Birmingham’s competitive advantage and change the area’s economic trajectory. Altec was pleased to help champion the apprenticeship program this summer, and we view the Birmingham Promise as an investment in the future of our company.”

Under the apprenticeship program in which Styslinger’s company participated, students receive $7.50 per hour from their employer and an additional $7.50 per hour from the city of Birmingham.

Woodfin says that workforce measurements are put in place “to make sure people are not just going to a job sitting in front of a computer and to make sure people are gaining exposure and matriculating through an actual apprenticeship program.”

He added that any child who wants to participate in the apprenticeship program will be allowed to and completion will result in the achievement of a certain amount of credit hours.

Woodfin aims to have between 150 and 300 students slotted for apprenticeships during the first year. He estimates the annual cost at $2 million per year once the program is up and running at full potential.

Program funding is administered through the United Way and a website is set up to collect private contributions.

“We believe this is a small down payment on investing in not only our youngest generation but our workforce,” Woodfin explained. “When you think about these major clusters that drive Birmingham’s economy, we have to say what are we prepared to do and what are we willing to do to make sure we are intentional about closing these workforce gaps, training the workforce.”

The mayor identifies communication between the partners as vital to the program.

“It is important for the city to remain aware of the private sector’s workforce gaps,” Woodfin said.

He explained that the program creates a workforce that can immediately go into action out of high school because it has been exposed for at least two years to the culture and climate of specific companies.

“It’s the ability for them to understand what responsibility means and work ethic and being on time and all these things,” Woodfin said. “It’s very important.”

And for those who choose to pursue a degree beyond high school, the previous exposure may lead to opportunities for that graduate.

Woodfin often uses the acronym “CPA” to illustrate his viewpoint on workforce. He describes it as “Creating” jobs, “Preparing” people and ensuring “Access” to those jobs.

“The Birmingham Promise hinges on the ‘P,'” he outlined. “The business community is responsible for creating the jobs, but I believe the city of Birmingham and the school system, in partnership, is responsible for preparing people for those jobs. Hence, the Birmingham Promise.”

“Corporate Birmingham has a bottom line as it relates to the gaps in its workforce,” he continued. “We’re saying partner with us to close those gaps. It works for the small business owner, it works for the entrepreneur, it works for a corporation because they have gaps, and this is a way long-term and short-term to close those gaps.”

A pilot program for all of Alabama

With Alabama ramping up its own workforce development efforts at the state government level, Carpenter thinks collaboration between Birmingham and state leaders is the natural next step.

“There are a lot of ways we think the policy considerations at the state level can be tested out here in the city of Birmingham, so we’re going to be pretty aggressive about making those connections,” mentioned Carpenter. “Having an office of apprenticeships with clear goals, our interests are tightly aligned with theirs. We want to be a pilot for them. We want to be a city that statewide people are looking at for apprenticeships and development of workers.”

He sees the partnerships the state has formed with the private sector as a model for Birmingham.

“I think what they’ve done is remarkable to encourage companies to be a part of it,” added Carpenter.

As with most ambitious programs, evidence of success for Birmingham Promise will take a couple of different forms, according to Carpenter.

“Our immediate goal is we want to connect 2,000 young workers to jobs in five years,” he outlined. “That’s the immediate goal. If we do that, we will be successful.”

There is another way, however, that Carpenter aspires to qualify success.

“When people around the country look up and say, ‘That city is serious about its talent workforce development,’” he will know the program is succeeding.

He recalled a recent conversation with a company in Silicon Valley contemplating expansion at a new location. Carpenter told them, “Birmingham has to be the place that you can grow.”

The conversation turned to what Birmingham has to offer — now and in the future.

“We talked about the type of talent they could find here and the way that they can grow,” Carpenter continued. “If we are very serious about investing in talent and people see that, I think it’s going to change the way Birmingham’s economy is developed. We have two goals there. One is to make sure companies really feel like Birmingham is the place they can grow and expand their business. And the other goal is obviously to make sure young people in our community feel like being a part of our community is getting a quality job and they find a sure pathway to that quality job.”

‘Not failure but low aim is sin’

Motivating Woodfin in his quest to improve Birmingham’s economy and communities through workforce development is a quote from civil rights icon Benjamin E. Mays, who said, “Not failure but low aim is sin.”

Woodfin’s commitment to the program is unwavering.

“This is bold but it needs to be done,” he concluded. “We’re going to meet the mark because our youngest generation is depending on us to meet the mark.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer News

40 mins ago

NASA’s Space Launch System positioned for key testing phase

The rocket which will return Americans to the Moon is now in place for a key testing phase. Known as “Green Run,” this series of tests will examine many of the rocket’s systems together for the first time in preparation for launch.

Now secured to a test stand at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the full Green Run for Space Launch System (SLS) will last about two months.

“This critical test series will demonstrate the rocket’s core stage propulsion system is ready for launch on missions to deep space,” Stennis director Rick Gilbrech said. “The countdown to this nation’s next great era of space exploration is moving ahead.”

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Developed by Boeing in Huntsville, and powered by four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines, SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built. It stands 212 feet high and 27.6 feet in diameter.

“Delivering the Space Launch System rocket core stage to Stennis for testing is an epic historical milestone,” said SLS stages manager Julie Bassler. “My team looks forward to bringing this flight hardware to life and conducting this vital test that will demonstrate the ability to provide 2 million pounds of thrust to send the Artemis I mission to space.”

The Green Run culminates with an eight-minute, full-duration hot fire of the stage’s four RS-25 engines to replicate the 2 million pounds of thrust required at launch.

Once the Green Run is complete, the next time the RS-25 engines fire up will be at launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Before the rocket arrived in Mississippi, Boeing SLS vice president and program manager John Shannon noted that the engine tests at Stennis will reveal even more information about the vehicle’s systems.

“The next big unknown for the program is when we put together the cryogenic liquids and oxygen tank and hydrogen tank and we look at the plumbing and all the systems and make sure they remain tight and perform as expected,” Shannon outlined. “We have high confidence that they will.”

Once the next round of tests concludes, the rockets are refurbished before the 10-12 day trip to Florida.

Shannon estimated that refurbishment will primarily involve inspections. He stated that in “a high vibration, high acoustic environment,” the question for team members becomes “did we break anything?” He cited thermal protection fixes as something that will need to be done because the fuel tank contracts when cold cryogenics are loaded in it, then expands again as it warms back up.

“By the time we take this vehicle to Kennedy Space Center it will be an extremely well-understood vehicle and we’ll have really high confidence in flying it,” Shannon concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

13 hours ago

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

MOBILE — Following the Hallmark-like reunion of University of Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and his former star quarterback Jalen Hurts on Wednesday at a Senior Bowl Week practice, Hurts spoke about how much the moment meant to him.

In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Hurts recounted what was said between himself and the legendary coach.

Asked by one of the interviewers about Saban visibly laughing during the reunion, Hurts explained, “Well, I was walking over there, talking to Ellis [Ponder], he’s the [football] operations guy at Alabama. And I was saying, ‘Coach is going to smile when I walk over to him.'”

Indeed, Saban was all smiles.

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“And he smiled,” Hurts continued. “And I go, ‘Coach, I haven’t seen that smile in a long time.'”

“So, it was good to see him,” he concluded. “You know, Coach Saban and I have a really great relationship. We’ve been in touch throughout the season, and he’s been nothing but supportive for me. It was great to see him.”

You can watch the Yahoo interview here.

Saban told reporters on Wednesday before the reunion that he still considers Hurts as one of his players and a member of the Crimson Tide family.

Hurts is playing for the South Team during the Senior Bowl, along with outgoing Bama players Jared Mayden, Terrell Lewis and Afernee Jennings. Those four players and Saban took a group picture together on Wednesday.

Hurts on Monday was presented with a two-sided helmet ahead of Saturday’s Senior Bowl game; one side is a replica of his iconic No. 2 Bama helmet, and the other has the Oklahoma Sooners logo on it. That special helmet, however, will be preserved by Hurts rather than worn during the game.

Get tickets to Saturday’s Senior Bowl game here.

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

13 hours ago

Trump: ‘I LOVE ALABAMA!’

President Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon exuberantly tweeted his affection for the state of Alabama, however the image he sent out along with the tweet has political observers in the Yellowhammer State collectively scratching their heads.

Along with his caption of “I LOVE ALABAMA!” Trump tweeted out a graph depicting the topline results of an Alabama Farmers Federation poll that was conducted in early December on the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

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To be clear, this polling data is at least somewhat outdated. Almost two full months have passed since the survey was conducted, and Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) has since started advertising on television.

You can read about that poll from Yellowhammer News’ original reporting here.

While people not-named Donald Trump may speculate as to why the president tweeted out the poll now — and exactly what he likes about it — only Trump really knows at this point.

Ultimately, all of the top GOP Senate campaigns right now are just as confused as the general public about the tweet.

However, it is noteworthy in and of itself that Trump tweeted anything at all about the primary. He has remained silent on the race since initially answering questions after his former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions entered the primary in early November.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News on Thursday, Sessions campaign manager Jon Jones reacted to the tweet by saying, “President Trump loves Alabama — and Alabama loves our president. Alabama gave President Trump one of his biggest margins of victory in 2016, and as this and other polls have shown, Republican voters in Alabama solidly back Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate race.”

“It’s easy for politicians to talk big now, but when the chips were down in 2016, Senator Jeff Sessions was President Trump’s strongest ally. Jeff Sessions is the conservative fighter Alabama needs in Washington, helping to advance the Trump agenda in the U.S. Senate,” he concluded.

Lenze Morris, press secretary for Byrne’s campaign, also reacted in a statement.

“We’re excited the president is watching this race. That polling is over two months old, and we know this is a close race. Bradley Byrne is going to win,” she said.

Former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper, Jr. (R-Montgomery) on Thursday afternoon told Yellowhammer News that the one thing above speculation is that Trump is looking forward to Alabama sending a second Republican senator to support his agenda in Washington, D.C. All of the top three Republican Senate contenders, Hooper said, would handily defeat Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November, which is the ultimate goal.

Trump’s Alabama approval rating has consistently been among the nation’s highest — if not the highest.

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

13 hours ago

Ivey, Chick-fil-A honor Sylacauga charity

MONTGOMERY — Governor Ivey hosted a ceremony on Thursday afternoon in honor of the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement (SAFE) winning the Southeast region’s Chick-fil-A True Inspiration Award.

The True Inspiration Awards’ website describes the award as targeting organizations that are “working hard to make a lasting difference in the lives of children living in their local communities.”

SAFE is the first winner from the state of Alabama. Winning the award comes with a $75,000 grant. Chick-fil-A franchisee Micah Harris of Sylacauga said that SAFE was one of 22 True Inspiration recipients for 2020 and “one of the very few at the level” that receives such a large grant.

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SAFE was chosen as the Southeast region’s winner from a field of finalists that included charities in Watkinsville, GA; Miami, FL; and Jacksonville, FL.

SAFE, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is a nonprofit in Sylacauga that aims to strengthen the community with a focus on families.

The executive director of SAFE, Margaret Morton, told Sylacauga News that the grant will go towards the group’s Workforce Ready program. She added that the grant “will give individuals more opportunities to be trained to get into the workforce, and give people more opportunity to have more value.”

Sylacauga has only had a Chick-fil-A since 2018. In her remarks at the ceremony on Thursday, Morton told the audience to much laughter that everyone in a 60-mile radius to Sylacauga thanked God that a franchise came to their community.

“Who would have thought that in less than a year our Chick-fil-A would have spearheaded the nomination for an award,” she added.

“Thank you to Chick-fil-a for supporting SAFE,” Ivey said in her conclusion, praising “the incredible work the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement is doing in their community and within our state.”

She added, “It’s impressive.”

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

14 hours ago

The refugee question

Alabamians have been watching in recent weeks to see how Alabama will handle the question of refugee resettlement. Other Republican governors have been split on the question, with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allowing refugees into his state and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ending his state’s participation in the program.

As Gov. Lee pointed out in public comments following his decision, there is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the issue.

Many Americans hear the word “refugee” and think of undocumented migrants seeking asylum at our southern border, unvetted and unsorted. In reality, individuals who are termed refugees and thus eligible for resettlement have already gone through an average of two years of vetting, first by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and then by the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

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People do not apply to be refugees. They are identified by the UNHCR based upon their displacement from their home country and a high degree of vulnerability: women, children, and those with significant medical needs rise to the top of the priority list. Ditto for those who have survived violence or torture. Once identified by the UN as qualified for consideration, the UNHCR conducts an extensive screening process to weed out individuals who might present a security risk.

The U.N. then refers those who qualify on to the US or other nations who offer resettlement opportunities. With the referral comes a great deal of data to aid the potential host nation in completing its own screening: iris scans, fingerprints, bio scans and records from numerous interviews and background checks.

The U.S. then conducts a second, equally thorough screening process to confirm the need for resettlement and rule out security risk.

For the lucky ones who survive this two-year gauntlet of questioning and waiting, this is where they are connected with one of nine non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for resettlement and subsequent support. Many of the NGOs are faith-based organizations like World Relief or the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

All of this occurs before any refugee is placed in a state like Alabama, Tennessee or Texas.

When asked why he chose to maintain Tennessee’s participation in the program, Lee defended the decision and shared about his wife’s work with female Kurdish refugees who have resettled in Nashville. The women became refugees after their husbands, translators for the U.S. military, were killed.

“I’m not turning my back on those people,” he said.

Lee, like all Republicans, believes in the need for a secure border and a safer, more orderly immigration process for our nation.

But he understands the difference between an illegal immigrant and a refugee. That difference is vast.

Alabama is a very red state largely because Alabama is a very Evangelical Christian state. We are bent toward conservatism because of our deeply held convictions about the value of human life, the necessity of religious liberty, and our distrust of big government.

But it’s those same core beliefs about the value of human life and the right to practice our faith as we see fit that should combust in the people of Alabama and set fire to a yearning to minister to women and children in crisis.

It’s that same gut-level desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to the “least of these” that should have us crawling over one another trying to get to our nearest NGO to help with resettlement efforts.

To welcome refugees is not to risk ourselves. It is simply to give a tiny portion of our abundance of safety, economic opportunity and liberty to those who have none.

You and I will incur more risk getting on the freeway to get home from work tonight than we will at the hands of resettled refugees.

There is, of course, a discussion to be had about how many such people we can accommodate, and how to best accomplish resettlement and assimilation into our culture. But as a Christian — and in light of the facts, rather than unfounded fears ginned up by political rhetoric and an erroneous conflation of the illegal immigration problem with the refugee question — I believe that Tennessee Governor Lee’s persistence in offering a safe harbor to the hurting is correct.

I hope Alabama will join Tennessee and make a decision that fully reflects the Christian faith of which our state is so quick to boast.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.