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Importance of Workforce Developmentcomment (0)

March 6, 2014

By Jim Williams

Few states can match Alabama’s success in attracting new business investment during the past two decades. These results in industries ranging from autos to aerospace stem from a business-friendly attitude, teamwork among economic development professionals, a highly regarded worker-training program and willingness to compete in offering financial incentives.

Continuing this economic development success is important because it translates into better jobs and higher incomes for Alabamians. But to continue its success, Alabama must overcome obstacles that include slow population growth and low educational attainment.  

The state’s population is projected to grow at a rate well below the pace of job creation, creating a worker shortfall. The causes: relatively few people are moving in, the working-age population is limited by the aging of baby boomers and participation in the labor force is low.  

Also 65 percent of all jobs in the future are expected to require postsecondary education, training or certification; today’s workforce is well short of that.  

Large numbers of Alabamians have no high school diploma, and while the high school graduation rate has risen to 80 percent, this still leaves 20 percent not graduating on time. A third of those entering Alabama’s colleges and universities require remedial math and/or English courses.  

Business, education and government leaders are pursuing a number of goals and strategies to address workforce issues. The State Board of Education’s Plan 2020 targets a 90 percent high school graduation rate, with strategies to link student academics with career plans.

The Alabama Community College System is working to develop apprenticeships with businesses and to increase dual enrollment, adult education and career-coaching programs.       

The Legislature has created an Alabama Workforce Council to link business and education leaders in pursuit of workforce improvements. The Mobile area has implemented a local workforce council of this type, and other communities are adopting similar approaches.

It has been estimated that raising the high school graduation rate to 90 percent would alone lead to $100 million in additional personal income along with lower costs of crime and social services.  

EDITOR’S NOTE — Jim Williams is executive director for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. Jim may be contacted at jwwillia@samford.edu.

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