(August 2018) You hear it all the time – there is a jobs problem in Alabama. What you don’t hear is that a lack of jobs is not the problem.  The real problem is a lack of well-trained, highly-skilled workers in the workforce. Every election cycle we hear the call for more aggressive industrial recruitment and more jobs.  But, we’ve got jobs – a lot of jobs – throughout the East AlabamaWorks region; throughout the state; and throughout the country. What we don’t have is enough qualified, trained workers. As a result, businesses and industries are struggling to fill a multitude of open positions in their companies – good jobs, with good wages and good benefits.


Construction companies are turning away millions of dollars of work because they can’t find enough skilled labor. Valuable loads of goods and products are sitting in warehouses because transportation companies can’t find enough CDL drivers. The list goes on and on. No industry sector is untouched by this issue.


And that’s why Workforce Development is suddenly taking center stage in Alabama. There is a good chance that you’ve never heard of the Alabama Workforce Council or its seven regional entities like East AlabamaWorks. But that is about to change. The regional workforce councils are made up of business and industry leaders from a variety of sectors, including Healthcare, Manufacturing, Transportation, and Construction just to name a few. The mission of the regional workforce councils is to facilitate collaboration and communication between business and industry, education and training providers, and community stakeholders in order to increase the number of well-trained, highly-skilled workers in our workforce.


The gap between jobs and available workers is so bad (and getting worse) that Governor Kay Ivey created a new workforce initiative called SUCCESS PLUS. The plan was unveiled earlier this year in May, and aims to add 500,000 new highly-skilled workers to Alabama’s workforce by the year 2025. 


How did we get here? Why do we have more jobs than we have workers? There are several reasons for the gap. One of those is the push for all students to attend a four-year college, regardless of their personal desire or ability. This push has resulted in too few students going to community college or learning a skilled trade like plumbing, robotics, or welding. We have forgotten that students who learn a trade usually find a job immediately out of training (with very little or no student debt) and often move into high-wage positions very quickly as they move along their career path.


We also have to look at new job recruitment and the loss of workers through retirement. According to the governor’s SUCCESS PLUS plan, if Alabama’s industrial recruitment efforts stay on target, 330,000 new jobs will be added in the state by 2025. At the same time, as baby boomers age out of the workforce, we will lose 170,000 trained, highly-skilled workers to retirement. To quote an old George Jones song, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”


That’s where we get that 500,000 new workers number mentioned earlier.


Those are just a few of the many reasons we have a workforce gap. Over the next few months we’ll take a more detailed look at the workforce gap, the reasons for the gap, what local businesses and industries are telling us about the workers they need, and the efforts of Alabama’s workforce development councils to reduce the gap moving forward.