200128 Northwest Alabama Rehabilitation 4

Tamara Robinson, unit supervisor at Northwest Alabama Rehabilitation Services in Muscle Shoals, meets with business relations consultant Nick Conway. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

The Business Education Alliance of Alabama has issued its first report, "Education Matters," in a step toward building a highly skilled workforce by 2025.

The nonprofit group spent 2019 reviewing all aspects of Alabama's workforce development system, including its strengths and challenges, to develop a theme for a research-based solution.

The alliance developed the report in partnership with the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the A+ Education Partnership.

Alabama is in the midst of an extensive redesign of workforce development with a goal of producing 500,000 new highly skilled workers in the next five years. 

That half-million figure represents the number of workers the state expects to need to compete for new industries and replace retiring workers successfully.

But to get to that goal, the state has to reach working-age adults and youth in Alabama's K-12 schools and post-secondary education systems.

The report highlights the fact that 325,000 Alabamians, ages 25 to 64, have less than a high school education, and only 49% of them participate in the workforce.

But lack of education is just one challenge the state's workforce faces.

Joe Morton, president of the Business Education Alliance of Alabama, said the state "is on pace to have a shortage of close to 200,000 highly skilled workers by 2025-26 if nothing changes in the workforce development pipelines."

He said the year-long review by the alliance sought to determine if the state has the right tools in place to produce an increased number of highly skilled workers, and what needs to change to ensure those workers are qualified for the jobs that will become available.

The report looks at low test scores (particularly in math and reading), beginning in the lower grade levels, and how that impacts the state's ability to prepare students for success in college and their careers.

The report calls for:

-- Greater investment in Alabama's First Class Pre-K program;

-- More targeted efforts to improve math and reading scores;

-- A more meaningful college and career readiness measurement; and

-- Increased collaboration with community partners and businesses.

Alabama Industrial Development Training Director Ed Castile, who is also deputy secretary of commerce for workforce programs, said career technical programs around the state are critical to developing the workforce, but so are those adults already in jobs who simply need additional training.

"The large number of jobs available in this state are jobs that people need skills beyond just a diploma, those hands-on skills," he said. "We've got to provide those training opportunities."

In some cases, it may be a matter of retraining as adults change careers that involve new skills.

That's where agencies like the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services come in.

Keys to that training and developing of new skills are apprenticeship programs around the state, according to Tamara Robinson, unit supervisor for the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services in Muscle Shoals.

"With this initiative I can see more of this type of hands-on training," she said. "The goal is to incentivize workers to build competencies and be well prepared and well trained for the employment opportunities in their areas."

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