(December 2018) When it comes to workforce development, there are many branches to our tree. Each day finds those of us who work in the field venturing out on a different branch, and most days you’ll find us jumping from branch to branch throughout the day like a squirrel. We interact daily with business and industry leaders, education and training providers, government officials, and anyone else who holds a stake in the current and future needs of Alabama’s workforce. While we are actively trying to solve the state’s current workforce shortage, we also spend a lot of time with an eye on the future workforce. Who is the future of Alabama’s workforce? Today’s elementary school,middle school, and high school students. So we have to start working with them today to insure a well-educated, well-trained, and viable workforce for the future.

Everyone wants to feel wanted, and today’s students are on business and industry’s “Most Wanted” list. Companies need employees now, but they also know what their projected needs are in years to come. So, today’s students can feel good about their prospects for jobs when they leave school, and can really feel good because they are already “wanted” by employers. To take advantage of this, parents and teachers must begin now to help students prepare by teaching them workplace social skills and ethics, employability (soft) skills, and get them into some kind of skills training as part of their regular education. They also need to understand the realities of the career choices that they have before them.

One of the tools we use in workforce development is the Kuder Career Interest Assessment. This assessment is given to students during their 8th grade year, and gives us an idea of what students are thinking about career-wise. Unfortunately, what we are finding is that students have very little understanding of what career choices they will actually have when they finish school. As you might expect, there are plenty of students whose only plan for the future is to be a professional athlete or the next big pop star sensation. But let’s dig deeper and look at the responses we get from students throughout the seven-county East AlabamaWorks region. The survey numbers we’ll be discussing today come from last year’s 8th graders – students who are currently high school freshmen who will graduate in 2022.

According to the Kuder Assessment, the most popular career choice of the Class of 2022 is Education. Twenty-one percent of students mark that box on their survey. Why is that? Because for most students it is the only career they have daily, extended contact with in their life. Their day is immersed in education and they are surrounded by teachers and education administrators all day. So, education is the career that they know the most about because they live it every day. Education is a great choice because there will always be a need for teachers and others in the education field.

 Number two on the list is Human Services. Students have been taught well about local non-profit organizations and they have a strong desire to “make a difference” by helping others as social workers, addiction counselors, child welfare specialists,family services advocates, etc. These careers are very visible in the community, so students see and relate to human services. Twenty percent of students chose this field, but most human services jobs are not high-wage,high-demand jobs.

Third on the list is Health Sciences at fourteen percent. Healthcare jobs are a great choice for students because they are high in demand, usually pay very well, and we’ll always need caring, compassionate, and well-trained people to take care of us in our various physical infirmities.

Now let’s look at the bottom of the list. This is where the“interest vs. reality” talk needs to happen. Coming in dead last on the assessment is Manufacturing. Only one percent of students marked manufacturing as an interest. This is a problem because the number one employment field in East Alabama is – you guessed it – manufacturing. Nearly twenty-two percent of all jobs in Workforce Region 2 are related to manufacturing, and most of those jobs are high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand occupations. So, while very few students show an interest in manufacturing, the reality is that most students will eventually work in a manufacturing field.

Construction and Transportation are also low-scoring fields for students, but again, the reality is that careers in those two areas are high-wage, high-demand occupations that are currently experiencing major worker shortages.

We have a responsibility to help our students have a clear and realistic expectation of their future opportunities. By all means, encourage them to dream big and to follow those dreams, but a dose of reality never hurts either. There is no shame in dreaming to be a carpenter, a registered nurse, a truck driver or a welder. We must work to take away the stigma associated with occupations that require high level skills and hard work. Our economy cannot function without skilled workers. We are a society of consumers and everything we consume has to be built, created, and manufactured by someone. From the little plastic covers on our shoe strings to the 4K HD televisions in every room of the house, everything we use has to be made by someone. There will always be high-skill, high-demand, high-wage jobs out there as we consume goods at ever-increasing levels. For more information on Workforce Development in East Alabama, Education and Training, High-Demand Occupations, and more visit www.eastalabamaworks.com.