2 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

56 mins ago

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt names Kerry Knott chief of staff

Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-04) on Tuesday officially announced the hire of Capitol Hill veteran Kerry Knott as his chief of staff.

Knott most recently ran Knott Strategies, LLC, where he helped Ravi Zacharias International Ministries focus on Washington, D.C.-based ministry opportunities. Knott notably helped create “At The Table,” a new event series designed to bring influential people together across industries to address important cultural and policy issues.

In a statement, Aderholt said, “I am very excited to be bringing Kerry Knott onboard as our new Chief of Staff.”

“Kerry is extremely talented. His many years of service in both the public and private sectors give him a great wealth of information and the skills needed to oversee my office staff and achieve our legislative priorities. As a native of Guntersville, Alabama, I know Kerry will always make serving the people of the 4th Congressional District the top priority in our office, everyday,” the congressman added.

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Knott’s congressional experience is extensive, including serving from 1985 to 1998 as the chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. In this role, Knott helped craft the 1994 “Contract with America,” which helped Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

“Congressman Aderholt has a great heart for our nation and for the state of Alabama,” Knott stressed. “It shows by his character, his integrity and in his effectiveness. It’s an honor to join his team and to help him accomplish his plans for our nation and for the 4th District of Alabama.”

Knott and his wife, Michelle Morgan Knott, live in Arlington, Virginia, with their three children: Sydney, Charlie and Austin. He is a native of Guntersville and graduated from Guntersville High School in 1978 and Auburn University in 1982.

Knott fills the void left by former Aderholt chief of staff Brian Rell, who recently departed to lead the D.C. office of Birmingham-based Balch and Bingham.

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

2 hours ago

Schumer deputy fundraising for Doug Jones

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the highest-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership besides Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is now publicly raising money for endangered Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

In a recent tweet, Durbin urged his followers to donate to Jones’ campaign.

The tweet links to a fundraising landing page with Durbin’s own campaign logo on it.

“Contribute now to help Doug Jones beat Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s Senate race,” the page urges.

This follows a trend of national Democrats fundraising for Jones based off of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions entering the crowded Republican primary to reclaim his old Senate seat.

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Senator Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) presidential campaign launched a fundraising blitz with contributions split between her campaign and Jones’, and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) have followed suit. Schatz also serves on Schumer’s Senate Democratic leadership team as chief deputy whip.

Per Murphy, his and Schatz’s respective fundraising appeals raised $40,000 for Jones’ campaign in the first day alone.

Jones welcomed the support, tweeting, “It is awesome to be in the company of such great friends – and true public servants.”

In the past three quarters, Jones raised 77%, 88% and 88%, respectively, of his individual itemized contributions from outside the state of Alabama.

Californians and New Yorkers have been Jones’ largest sources of funding, with the Washington, D.C. area and other liberal metropolitan strongholds like Chicago also playing major roles.

In addition to Sessions, the competitive GOP Senate primary field includes former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

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

2 hours ago

BCA names Kellie Hope director of regional affairs for South Alabama

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) on Tuesday announced that Kellie Hope has been named director of regional affairs. Her primary focus will be the organization’s membership in South Alabama.

According to a release, Hope’s responsibilities will span from membership services to governmental affairs and will include creating opportunities for elected officials to learn more about the unique needs of the business community in this important region of the state. She will also be working closely with chambers of commerce in South Alabama.

In a statement, BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt outlined that Hope is an exciting addition to an already top-notch team.

“Kellie Hope is well known and well respected in the Mobile business community, and we are proud to have her join our team,” Britt said.

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“Her knowledge and relationships position her to be invaluable to BCA members in south Alabama and to help grow and serve our membership in this region of the state,” Britt continued. “This new position will give us the opportunity to provide boots on the ground while at the same time prioritizing membership services on a more local level.”

Hope expressed that she is “grateful for this opportunity.”

“I look forward to wearing the BCA jersey and being the consummate team player and a champion for BCA’s mission to further develop, empower and support the business community of south Alabama. I am honored by Katie’s friendship and her trust, and I am equally honored by the trust and approval of the BCA leadership,” Hope added.

Hope comes to BCA from the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, where she had served as vice president of community and governmental affairs since 2017. Prior to the chamber, she served as external affairs manager for Southern Light (now Uniti Fiber), developing local government relations across the Gulf Coast. Hope was responsible for legislative and regulatory issues impacting the fiber company in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Additionally, Hope has 10-plus years’ experience in the health care sector, including director of community services and communications for Tulane University Hospital; administrator and mental health coordinator for Cooper Green Mercy Hospital in Birmingham; and owner of the Louisiana Health and Wellness Group in Houma, LA, providing a partial hospitalization program for mentally ill adults.

Hope earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a Master of Social Work from Tulane University. Additionally, she is a graduate of Leadership Mobile in 2015 and Leadership Alabama in 2017 and currently serves on the boards of directors of Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast, Dumas Wesley Community Center and Downtown Parks Conservancy.

Hope’s job at BCA is effective immediately. She will be based in Mobile.

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

4 hours ago

Steven Reed sworn in as mayor of Montgomery

MONTGOMERY — Steven L. Reed on Tuesday morning was sworn in as the City of Montgomery’s 57th mayor.

An exuberant crowd packed the Montgomery Performing Arts Center to view the historic occasion firsthand, as Reed is now the first black mayor of Alabama’s capital city.

The momentous occasion was a theme in Reed’s inaugural address, as he repeatedly made references to Montgomery’s status as the cradle of the Confederacy and birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.

Whether it be the slave trade’s former prominence in the city or the fact that his parents could still not eat in whites-only restaurants when they came to town, Reed made it clear Montgomery has come a long way.

However, he emphasized that the way to look is forward — for continued progress and greater prosperity.

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“When your memories are bigger than your dreams, you’re in big trouble,” Reed said. “There are no chains on our imaginations.”

He also stressed a continued need for unity — across socioeconomic, racial and religious lines.

“What we can never be again is a divided Montgomery,” the mayor proclaimed.

Outlining that the city is at the intersection of history and possibility, he advised that Montgomery faces a lot of very real challenges. He said that it might not happen quickly but that solutions were on the way to create safer neighborhoods, better classrooms and further opportunities for all.

Reed mentioned laying more fiber, investing in pre-k, focusing on workforce development and paying teachers more as key priorities.

He shared his vision for Montgomery as “a New South capital for all,” in which all — not just the few — are able to thrive.

Reed’s speech came after his father, Dr. Joe Reed, gave “brief” remarks.

Dr. Reed’s first piece of advice to his son was: “Keep God in the forefront.”

He urged the new mayor to not be afraid to pray for guidance or ask others to pray for him.

The inauguration ceremony came during a special meeting of the Montgomery City Council.

After the entire council was sworn in, the members reelected Charles Jinright as council president and Tracy Larkin as council president pro tem.

Reed was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama.

You can view a video of the proceedings and remarks from both Reeds here.

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

4 hours ago

Small business remains ‘upbeat’ about economy; Workforce needs remain a priority

The small business economic engine continues to run strong, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) October Optimism Index.

The nationwide small business organization released the findings of its monthly index on Tuesday, with the index once again showing gains in that sector of the economy.

The leader of NFIB’s Alabama association expressed continued optimism among members.

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“[S]mall business owners in Alabama generally are upbeat about the direction of the economy,” explained NFIB state director Rosemary Elebash. “Their primary concern at the moment is finding enough good job applicants.”

NFIB president and CEO Juanita Duggan, an Alabama native, credits sound policy for the gains despite some recent media fixation on potential negative trends.

“A continued focus on a recession by policymakers, talking heads, and the media clearly caused some consternation among small businesses in previous months, but after shifting their focus to other topics, it’s become clear that owners are not experiencing the predicted turmoil,” said Duggan. “Small business owners are continuing to create jobs, raise wages, and grow their businesses, thanks to tax cuts and deregulation, and nothing is stopping them except for finding qualified workers.”

As a result of small business continuing to hire and create new jobs, the index found that actual job creation in October exceeded that in September.

As Elebash noted, meeting the workforce needs of thriving small businesses remain both a challenge and a priority.

Twenty-five percent of the owners in the NFIB survey selected “finding qualified labor” as their top business problem, more than cited taxes or regulations.

“Labor shortages are impacting investment adversely – a new truck, or tractor, or crane is of no value if operators cannot be hired to operate them,” said NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg.

At a small business panel hosted by Yellowhammer last month, Alabama’s workforce development needs drove much of the conversation.

“We have a significant shortage of qualified workers,” said Elebash, who participated in the panel discussion.

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) is a member of a workforce development commission assembled by Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth.

Also a participant in Yellowhammer’s small business event, he outlined the fact that Alabama needs to implement a sound strategy to address its workforce needs.

“Not only do we need to develop our workforce for current jobs, we’ve got to get out front and understand where we are going,” advised Garrett.

For now, NFIB’s Dunkelberg remains bullish on an economy in which small business is prospering.

“The economy is doing well given the labor constraints it faces. Unemployment is very low, incomes are rising, and inflation is low. That’s a good economy,” Dunkelberg concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia