1 week 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

1 hour ago

What is the responsibility of business?

The Business Roundtable (BR), a group of chief executive officers (CEOs) of some of America’s largest corporations, recently released a statement claiming that businesses have a broader purpose than simply making profit. By contrast, in a famous essay economist Milton Friedman argued that the social responsibility of business was to increase its profit. The BR statement may perhaps be pure public relations. Still, should we regard profit as less important than other potential business goals?

Answering this depends on the nature of profits. In the market, all transactions are voluntary. No business, however large, can compel anyone to buy their product, work for them, or loan them money. Profit must be earned by producing valuable goods or services. Customers will only buy a product that delivers more value than comparably priced goods, or similar value for a lower price. Workers will only work if the pay and conditions compare favorably to other jobs.

529

In a market economy, profit cannot be made through exploitation. Some people, unfortunately, do not have very good alternatives. Many Americans do not consider a minimum wage job attractive; the person willing to work for $7.25 an hour is better off, given their other options. We might lament the lack of better alternatives but any better opportunity is an improvement.

Should corporations lower prices or pay workers more instead of earning profits? Not necessarily. Profit is the reward for investors who enable investment, the hiring of workers, and production. Profit also enables charity. America’s great philanthropic foundations – like the Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates Foundations – were built off enormously successful and profitable businesses. If Microsoft were not so profitable, Bill Gates could not be so charitable today.

Why will stockholders want businesses to earn profits? Millions of Americans own stock, either directly or through their pension plans. They invest for many different reasons: for retirement, to provide for their children or grandchildren, or to enable donations to charitable causes. Money allows the stockholders to pursue these distinct goals. Absent specific evidence otherwise, we should presume that stockholders want profit.

The BR statement says that corporations have commitments to other stakeholders: they should deliver value to customers, treat and compensate employees fairly, and deal ethically with suppliers. I see no real divergence here from Professor Friedman, who insisted that increases in profit had to be achieved within society’s legal and ethical bounds.

This might seem surprising, as corporations appear to many to shortchange customers and take advantage of employees. Yet markets are entirely voluntary. Providing a shoddy product and ignoring customer complaints may reduce costs and increase profit in the near term. But dissatisfied customers will turn elsewhere and damages a company’s reputation.

Corporations rely on their employees, as the owners do not do all the work themselves. The workers know how to make a business’ products. Dissatisfied workers can quit, taking their training and skills with them. Stiffing workers on overtime or benefits may save a little money, but losing skilled workers is very costly.

Treating people the right way – especially customers, employees and suppliers – is arguably how to increase profits. It may be difficult to quantify how much this adds to the bottom line and so may appear to be an item of faith. Still, the BR statement here just seems like good business.

One of Professor Friedman’s concerns remains relevant today. CEOs make decisions, give speeches, and receive media attention but ultimately do not own corporations. Owners ultimately get to make the decisions; the CEO works for the stockholders, represented by the board of directors.

A CEO may choose to support trendy social causes to build a reputation as an enlightened executive. It is easy to be charitable with other people’s money. Hold your applause when businesses support broader social causes. CEOs ultimately should heed the stockholders and not grab the spotlight to boost their egos.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

3 hours ago

Alabama Maker Siluria Brewing has tapped into local flavor of Alabaster

Siluria Brewing Company was built in a renovated post office and has delivered on a promise of good beer and an inviting atmosphere for locals and visitors.

Just a few turns off Interstate 65 in Alabaster, Siluria Brewing has established itself as a part of the community since it opened in November 2018.

Danny and Tammy Sample, a soon-to-be-retired military veteran and a retired dental hygienist, respectively, opened the brewery in the city they love.

254

Siluria Brewing is an Alabama Maker of local beer from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

“We knew we wanted an old building, we wanted there to be some history and character and we didn’t feel like we could do that if we built a new building,” Tammy said. Renovating took almost a year, but what they have now is a place that represents them and Alabaster. The dynamic duo knew they wanted the place to be as much about family as it is about beer.

Siluria Brewing is named after the town of Siluria from the 1890s. It remains a neighborhood in Alabaster, but was absorbed into the larger Shelby County city in the 1970s.

Danny said he felt the city needed something like Siluria Brewing that it could embrace and enjoy.

The Samples have succeeded in bringing old and new together, drawing on history while offering a new place to gather after work or for live music on the weekends.

A variety of nine beers aims to have something for all beer lovers. For those not into beer, the Samples are expanding into wine.

Through it all, Danny said the goal is to keep the focus where it is.

“We’re not going to try to compete statewide or nationwide,” he said. “We just truly want to stay local and be a true small, local business.”


Siluria Brewing Company

The product: Craft beer with special seasonal offerings.

Take home: A growler of Cock-On-A-Rock ESB.

Siluria Brewing Company can be found online, on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band to perform in 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama Million Dollar Band has been selected to perform in the 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®, representing the state of Alabama.

This will mark the first appearance by the band in the Parade. The Million Dollar Band will join the Parade to the call of “Let’s Have a Parade,” the iconic phrase that has signaled the start of every Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1924.

512

“It’s fitting that the UA Million Dollar Band, one of the most respected university marching bands in the country, will be performing in one of the largest parades in the world,” said UA President Stuart R. Bell. “What Alabama fans have been able to enjoy on Saturdays will now be shared with more than 50 million people live on the streets of New York and watching on television. We’re honored by the invitation, and I couldn’t be more pleased by the work of these talented student musicians.”

“The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of America’s iconic holiday traditions,” said Dr. Ken Ozzello, UA professor of music and director of bands. “Having the opportunity to participate will be thrilling for the members of the Million Dollar Band and provide them with life-long memories.”

Each year, the Macy’s Parade Band Committee looks for bands that have the stage presence and the musical and marching abilities to captivate more than 3.5 million live spectators and more than 50 million viewers. The Million Dollar Band was selected from more than 100 applicants as one of nine bands to march in the 94th edition of the annual holiday spectacle.

The band will join the revelry along with other iconic Macy’s staples: floats, giant character balloons, clowns and superstar performers galore on Thanksgiving Day 2020, helping create an unforgettable experience for millions.

“When most Americans think of The University of Alabama, they may think about football, however, it is the exciting showmanship, entertaining performances and incredible music at halftime that captures our attention,” said Wesley Whatley, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade creative producer. “The Macy’s Band Selection Committee is proud to welcome the sights and sounds of The Million Dollar Band to the streets of New York City for their inaugural appearance in the 2020 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!”

The Million Dollar Band will spend the next 14 months planning for their Parade appearance.

“In preparation, the band will work on its marching technique, as well as the standstill portion of the Parade which is televised by NBC,” Ozzello said. “It will be a challenge to stage 400 musicians and performers in front of Macy’s, but the staff is eagerly looking forward to taking on that challenge.”

Performing for millions of fans each year, the Million Dollar Band has been a Crimson Tide tradition for more than 100 years, and it has become one of the most respected university marching bands in the country. The band, which is made up of more than 400 students from almost every major and department on campus, is UA’s largest student organization.

For more than 90 years, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has given thanks to what Macy’s values most – its loyal fans. More than 5,000 Macy’s employees and dedicated volunteers work tirelessly to create a spectacular event that entertains the cheerful crowds and provides joy to millions at home watching on Thanksgiving Day. Stretching down a more than two-mile-long route in New York City, the spectacle is alive with gleaming color, music and smiles.

Shane Dorrill is the Assistant Director of Communications, Broadcast Media and Safety at the University of Alabama

4 hours ago

Thousands of Alabama 8th graders attend mega career fair

More than 7,900 eighth graders from across southwest Alabama visited the Mobile Civic Center Wednesday and Thursday for the 10th annual Worlds of Opportunity hands-on career exploration event.

New this year was WOO Varsity, an event where high school students could learn about competitive, high-wage career opportunities and meet with potential employers. Students had the opportunity to talk with industry professionals about high-demand jobs, apprenticeships and enter for a $1,000 technical program scholarship drawing.

“We’ve got to grow our own talent,” Duplantis said. “We hope to create a spark and we could not do it without our sponsors like Alabama Power, BASF and ST Engineering — they’re all doing a wonderful job of giving these kids something that’s very hands-on. Our companies understand the need to start early in pipeline development.”

86

Alabama Power sponsors and participates in the program.

Duplantis said this event is just another example of the positive energy surrounding workforce development and economic development efforts in Alabama.

“If we’re going to meet our demands, we’ve got to have an additional 500,000 workers with a degree or credential by 2025,” Duplantis said. “This is part of meeting that goal.”

To learn more about Worlds of Opportunity or career training opportunities in southwest Alabama, visit sawdcalabamaworks.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Celebrate the Seventh Amendment Monday at Jefferson County Courthouse

The Alabama Association of Justice and their members invite all courthouse employees and judicial staff to celebrate 230 years of the Seventh Amendment guaranteeing the right to a civil jury trial.  Join the fun: Monday, September 23, 10:00 am to 10:30 am at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N #251, Birmingham, AL.  For more information contact jsmith@alabamajustice.org.

1