Business, education leaders discuss workforce development

Published 11:21 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Leaders in business, industry and education came together Wednesday at the Pike County Economic Development Center to discuss how they can work together to develop a strong workforce in the county.

Katie Thomas of Southeast Alabama Works said they held the “business and industry” cluster to hear what workforce development is going on right now in the county and to hear from other leaders on how to keep improving on it.

“The gist is we collaborate with businesses and industries to identify workforce challenges and implement solutions to help them fill jobs with more qualified applicants,” Thomas said. “We’re a conduit to get you into all the resources you need without having to call 15 other people. We’re the piece of the puzzle that brings all of that together so it is easier for you to access.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Mayor Jason Reeves said Pike County is a special place right now because of the focus on workforce development.

“You’re sitting in the middle of a county – it’s simple; there will be more jobs created this year in Pike County then there were people filing for unemployment in the county in a month. There’s not many places that can say that. That’s because of all the people in this room all working together; there’s an incredible amount of talent all gathered in one place. We need you to help us provide that workforce and give our folks here an opportunity to grow and prosper.”

Thomas said the top priorities she hears over and over from businesses looking to hire is simply that the applicant can pass a drug test, show up on time and listen to instruction.

Workforce development like the career tech programs in the high schools and Enterprise State Community College, and training programs at AIDT and the Alabama Career Center are helping to provide more of those potential employees.

Bobby Jon Drinkard of AIDT said the workforce training arm of the state offers support to new and expanding industries at no cost when they create at least 10 new full-time jobs paying at least $12 an hour.

“For a family of four, $10 an hour is poverty level, and you’re not really much better at $11 or $12,” Drinkard sid. “How do you bring people in? I’m teling you what I see with my own two eyes, you cannot recruit and retain people for less than $12 an hour. You’ll keep them until they find something better down the road; the have to support their families.”

Drinkard said the training program can usually be held on-site in one of AIDT’s mobile training units. Participants are not guaranteed a job even if they successfully complete the program, but they are also not required to take the job if they pass.

“It shows you the commitment they have if they are willing to come at night and train unpaid to learn the skills they need for the job,” Drinkard said.

Dr. Donnella Carter of Pike County Schools spoke about the school system’s focus on career readiness.

“The rubber meets the road in 10th through 12th grade,” Carter said. “There’s an abundance of opportunities, whatever they want to do in life if they have taken advantage of the opportunities here. About 35 percent of our population could tackle college course and do well,  65 percent do best in short-term certificates and the other 10 percent in vocational rehab. Everyone leaves with a plan for work.”

Carter said the short-term certificate programs in the system such as legal, aviation, medical are responsive to the needs of businesses and industries in the community.

Dr. Brock Kelley, principal of Charles Henderson High School, said the school introduced the new MSSC certification in January and is looking to expand the workforce essentials course even further in the future to provide more training hours for students.

“In the fall, we will be looking at moving form a 144-hour semester to a year-long 288 hours of workforce skill training,” Kelley said.

The MSSC certification is one of the prime credentials that industries are looking fro, Kelley said, as it is seen as a good entry credential that covers a variety of workforce needs.

Pike Liberal Arts principal Eric Burkett said the high school offers robotics and rocketry classes already, but he said he came mostly because the school is still in its “infancy” when it comes to workforce development programs. “I’m here to get the ball rolling,” Burkett said.

Ebone Curry of the Alabama Career Center in Troy said the center provides financial support for on-the-job training as well as running a GED testing center.

“We talk to managers about what you’re looking for and then go out and find you the perfect candidate,” Curry said.