As Alabama’s economy continues to grow, the manufacturing sector follows that same growth. And to enable growth by providing a skilled talent pool the state is listening very closely to what students want and making sure they match with the needs of employers.
To achieve this, the state announced on May 14 a new workforce program called the Success Plus Initiative. It will be part of the AlabamaWorks program. The goal of the program is to improve the statewide level of education beyond high school. Working with industry the program will connect a high-skill workforce – those with post-high school certifications – with the opportunities of business and industry.
Research done by AlabamaWorks found that 32% of high-schoolers identified innovation as their primary work value. That is good news for the advanced manufacturing industry which offers many paths of innovation.
However, the state has some barriers to overcome in order to create a successful match. “Even with excellent earning potential, high employer demand and direct alignment with students’ work values, not enough students are entering the manufacturing field,” the group said.
Josh Laney, the senior director for Workforce Development for the Alabama State Department of Education discussed the barriers and some solutions. Here is an excerpt from an article he wrote for AlabamaWorks
There are three main barriers, and they can be eliminated through work-based learning. Those barriers are career interest, availability of training opportunities and lack of knowledge on the part of employers.
Career interest assessments of Alabama high school students consistently reveal only 1% identifying manufacturing as a career field of choice. The Alabama State Department of Education is working in conjunction with Manufacture Alabama and the Regional Workforce Councils to provide educators and school leaders with information about manufacturing careers.
Changing misperceptions about careers in advanced manufacturing is the first step in communicating information. However, if we have learned anything from social media culture and the age of online reviews, it is that young people believe their peers. This is where the work-based learning model can help.
A company that hires a few students in an apprenticeship or cooperative education role can increase its recruiting power. When those students interact with their peers, other students learn about those career pathways. Three or four student workers returning to their schools and wearing employer-branded team wear, telling their peers about how cool the job is and talking about how much money they make are the kind of authentic public relations that no company can buy.
A second barrier to meeting workforce demands of the manufacturing industry is the difficulty in providing training opportunities. The tools and equipment needed to teach the myriad technical processes in manufacturing can be expensive.
With a work-based learning model, these barriers are eliminated. A company with a need for trained employees is the best place for that student to learn. The veteran employees have the corporate culture, technical knowledge and real-world experience to train new hires. Employers also report increased engagement levels from veteran employees who work as mentors, with some delaying retirement until they have trained their successors. Apprenticeships and cooperative education placements are the best solutions to putting students, equipment and tools under the supervision of the workers they will be replacing.
The final barrier to using work-based learning opportunities to fill demand is corporate culture and policies based on outdated or erroneous information. For example, it ISslegal to hire 16-year-olds as apprentices, according to US child labor laws. However, some manufacturers have corporate and insurance policies that won’t allow them to do so. This puts them behind the curve in cultivating talent.
While it is true that some specific activities are prohibited, many of the prohibitions are explicitly waived for students participating in apprenticeships. The USDOL and the U.S. Department of Education issued a joint training and employment notice in January 2017. In that notice, they say that not only are high school apprenticeships allowed, they are encouraged. The Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama Department of Labor have both repeatedly echoed these sentiments and are actively promoting youth apprenticeships and work-based learning activities. If an employer is interested in finding out where youths can fit into their facility, the two departments stand ready to help. When it comes to insurance, a company employing a youth apprentice must cover that apprentice in the same way they would any other part-time employee in that job.
By 2025, Alabama will need to add 500,000 high-skilled employees, not all in manufacturing, to the workforce in order to fill existing industry’s labor needs and compete for new businesses, according to a recent report produced by the Alabama Workforce Council’s Statewide Educational Attainment Committee.
“Companies are changing the way they do business, what goods and services they provide and they are constantly reevaluating the type of workforce they employ,” said Governor Kay Ivy on May 14 when announcing the Success Plus Initiative. “With those changes, we are also seeing a shift in the skills needed to compete in today’s workforce.” “In order to stay competitive in a global economy, Alabama must prepare our workforce to be ready for the jobs of tomorrow. We will be working with business and industry to ensure we have the training necessary to equip Alabamians with the skills needed for these high-tech, high-skill jobs.”
Jeff Lynn, vice chairman of the Alabama Community College System, chaired the Statewide Educational Attainment Committee that oversaw the creation of Success Plus. He stated that the goal is to help Alabamians better understand workforce opportunities, the skills of the future, and pathways for them to acquire those skills.
Zeke Smith, chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council, said Success Plus will build on existing opportunities.“We are already seeing these initiatives pay off and begin to make a difference,” Smith said. “Employers are finding qualified employees, and prospective employees are more easily finding jobs and training resources. Success Plus will take our efforts to the next level to ensure that our citizens are prepared to do the jobs that are in greatest demand.”