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Alabama primed to become ‘workforce engine of the Southeast’

BIRMINGHAM Though Alabama is home to diverse industries and businesses, it is facing a labor force percentage below the national average.

To address this disparity, the State Legislature created the Lieutenant Governor’s Commission on 21st Century Workforce in 2019. The panel was charged with charting a path to improve workforce competitiveness and Alabama’s low labor force participation rate.

“When you look at all that our state has to offer, you begin to realize that with an aligned and centrally coordinated plan for success, Alabama is primed to be the workforce engine of the Southeast,” said Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth.

The commission met Wednesday in Birmingham to prepare recommendations that aim to transform Alabama’s current workforce development initiatives.

“It has been a privilege to work with this fantastic group of leaders, both elected and in the business community, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Alabama’s workforce system as well as needed improvements,” Ainsworth said. “We need to be able to effectively recruit, train and employ Alabamians for the in-demand jobs of today and the jobs of the future.”

In addition to Ainsworth, members of the commission are Alabama Power CEO Jeff Peoples; PowerSouth Energy Cooperative CEO Gary Smith; State Sens,. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook), Donnie Chesteen (R-Dothan), Linda Coleman Madison (D-Birmingham); and State Reps. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), Kelvin Lawrence (D-Hayneville), Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn), and Debbie Wood (R-Valley).

Garrett, chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, said Alabama’s workforce initiatives must be aligned with the needs of business and industry and that Alabama needs a “quarterback” to ensure coordination on workforce development efforts.

“The talent and abilities valued and required by employers continue to rise and change, and our talent pipeline and our education and workforce training programs must improve to meet those challenges,” he said. “We also need to have a dedicated cabinet agency as a ‘quarterback’ to make sure the state’s workforce development programs are aligned and coordinated.

“This will improve outcomes and reduce the burden on the taxpayer.”

Lawrence said the time is now to begin laying out the future of Alabama’s workforce system.

“No matter what metric you look at with regard to labor force participation, Alabama is approximately 5% below the national average,” said Lawrence. “The time is now for the state of Alabama to make improvements to our workforce system that can see us compete with other states when it comes to having a robust, well-trained workforce.”

The commission will submit its recommendations to the governor and Legislature before the 2024 legislative session.

“We are going to fix this,” said Ainsworth.

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