Workforce development takes center stage in Madison County local election
Workforce development has become a well-known priority on the state level, with Alabama’s recent efforts garnering international attention. Indeed, the issue has become such a focus that job training is now playing a major role in policy discussions — and in elections — on the local level.
The perfect exemplar of this is a candidate in North Alabama championing school district involvement in workforce development efforts. Republican Howell Lee is putting the issue at the forefront of his Madison County School Board District 3 race.
If elected, Lee has promised voters that his experience in workforce development will help the schools in his district prepare students for an increasingly competitive 21st century labor market.
Grandfather, prominent homebuilder and former dean of workforce development at Calhoun Community College, Lee spoke to Yellowhammer News recently about his promise to Huntsville and surrounding areas that highlights a pivotal time for public education and workforce development in the state.
North Alabama is booming, but, as with the state, record low unemployment rates underscore the critical need for qualified and skilled workers to fill existing jobs. The region’s economic growth means even more jobs will need to be filled in coming years, and Lee argues local public school systems have a bigger role to play in the ability of employers to fill them.
“We’re already home to some great, exciting jobs. The opportunity and the challenge now is supplying the demand within Madison County,” Lee remarked.
In her 2020 State of the State Address, Ivey said “our future depends on [workforce development].”
Lee echoed the governor’s call by emphasizing the prospect of bringing career education directly into K-12 schools on a widespread level.
“We have an opportunity in our public schools to invest and keep our children in the community by preparing them to jump right into these jobs, in some cases right after graduation, making really good money,” he advised.
Lee is no stranger to the conversation. Despite never holding or running for office, he has more than 15 years of leadership experience developing the area’s workforce and economic engine. During a pivotal point for the region’s effort to create job training opportunities, Lee was asked to oversee a four-year “Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development” (WIRED) grant for the Tennessee Valley, which distributed $5 million across 14 North Alabama counties. He previously served as a voting member of the Alabama State Workforce Development Council and stood up a workforce development committee for his local Builders Association, which helped lead to the creation of the new Madison County construction academy.
His other goals for the school board also happen to align with consensus priorities in Montgomery this legislative session.
“School safety and expanding mental health resources for our students is on my heart more than anything else,” Lee told Yellowhammer.
Just on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) led a bipartisan group of legislative leaders in unveiling a major package of mental health bills backed by Ivey.
“I think we’ve got to start in our school system,” Ledbetter has said.
Lee thinks this a huge step in the right direction.
“Some of our campuses in the district only have one counselor available one day a week. I’m going to advocate at every turn to increase the counselor to student ratio in our schools,” Lee outlined. “That will have a positive impact in all areas of our students’ lives.”
Howell and his wife, Susan, are currently raising three grandchildren enrolled in the Madison County school system.
“It’s been a blessing to be involved in their school and extracurricular and sports involvements,” Lee noted. “They’ve kept me involved. Susan and I have a lot of skin in the game.”
If elected on March 3, Lee explained that he will work to build a future in which his grandchildren — and future generations — are prepared for the high-quality jobs of tomorrow.
“I want to make the schools in our district something everyone can be proud of,” Lee concluded. “At the end of the day, it’s all for our children.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn