On Friday, November 1, 2019, the University of West Alabama held a Summit on Rural Workforce Development at the Bell Conference Center in Livingston. As part of the program, Dr. Tina Jones, UWA Vice-President for Economic and Workforce Development announced a $2.5 million grant from the U. S. Department of Labor and the Delta Regional Authority for a regional workforce development program serving ten counties in the western Alabama Black Belt.
The three hundred attendees at the Summit heard from three panels of industry, education and state government officials with responsibility for basic education, job training and workforce development in the state and in our west Alabama area. There was also an interesting luncheon keynote from Jay Moon, President of the Mississippi Manufacturers, on future trends in work and preparing people to work in the future economy.
Nick Moore, Governor Ivey’s advisor on Education and Workforce stressed, “there is no wrong door to enter the state’s workforce development program. No matter your entry point, the state’s education and workforce agencies and programs will assist you where you are, with the education you have, and the skills and experiences you have and want to develop to go to work with any industry and employer.”
Donny Jones with West Alabama Works followed this up by saying that the workforce system will help you no matter your literacy and math skills. “We will help you get a GED. We will help you get basic skills; we will work with you to overcome barriers of transportation, childcare, and other problems. We are looking at people now that were previously incarcerated and trying to give them the skills and awareness they need to be productive members of the state’s workforce.”
Fitzgerald Washington, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Labor indicated that unemployment in the state is at a record low level of 3%. We still have 66,000 people who are officially unemployed. We also have 41.6% of our eligible adult population that have opted out of the labor force. “We need to use these workforce and training initiatives to bring more people back into the labor force and give them the education, attitudes and skills necessary to work in to our growing economy.”
Nick Moore said, “We must be aware of the ‘benefit cliff’ that some persons who have opted out of the workforce will experience when they come back into the workforce. Some people loose so much in SNAP, Medicaid, childcare and other benefits when they move into a job that they are reluctant to make the transition. We have to find ways to ease this ‘benefit cliff’ for people and seamlessly transition them into the workforce.”
The Summit provided important insights into the current status and position of workforce development in the state. The announcement of the $2.5 million grant to UWA will help enhance the practical follow-up to this meeting.
“We are immensely appreciative of this grant award from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Delta Regional Authority that will allow UWA the opportunity to expand our economic and workforce development efforts for a 10-county rural area that we serve,” said UWA President Ken Tucker.
“As a regional university whose mission includes improving the quality of life for the region, we have long seen education as an engine that drives economic and workforce development, and this nearly $2.5 million will have a transformative influence on the people of west Alabama and beyond for many years to come. We have an outstanding team in UWA’s Division of Economic and Workforce Development working daily to establish the partnerships and innovative initiatives that will strengthen the impact of this generous investment for our region and rural Alabama.”
The grant will fund a UWA Division of Economic and Workforce Development initiative known as LINCS: Leveraging Interconnected Networks for Change and Sustainability. LINCS is designed to help develop a regional workforce based on industry-recognized standards, credentials and identified needs in order to strengthen the economy and skill levels in a 10-county west Alabama rural region.
“We are grateful for the many partners who have come together to assist UWA with the development of the LINCS proposal,” said Dr. Tina Jones, vice president of the UWA Division of Economic and Workforce Development. “By tapping into existing workforce systems that have a proven record of success, our goal is to address current barriers and gaps in the workforce pipeline.”
“We want to improve remote delivery and access to relevant workforce training in our rural areas, strengthen connections to employment opportunities, and yield a workforce ready to step into Alabama’s growing advanced manufacturing environment,” Jones said.
“We believe that offering customized, economic-responsive curricula designed around the needs of regional commerce through a University-industry partnership will help create a region rich in jobs, with better educated citizens earning more at their jobs, thereby improving lifestyles and bringing in more resources for our region and the State,” Jones explained.
The stated goal of the LINCS project is to increase advanced manufacturing employment skill sets in the underserved rural counties of west Alabama. The awarded grant will implement a three-pronged approach to address current barriers and gaps in the workforce pipeline in collaboration with other existing agencies and employer-driven organizations. These include: 1) development of employer-driven curriculum and fast-track certificate programs; 2) recruitment and placement of new entrants into the workforce and promotion of incumbent workers to retain or advance current employment; and 3) establishment and expansion of rural apprenticeship initiatives.
LINCS will be designed to be a customized development program in advanced manufacturing skills and technologies in concert with existing partners, employers, and stakeholders. The project will: 1) fill identified gaps by connecting all levels of education and skills with training and employment opportunities; 2) increase accessibility to training; 3) deliver a better prepared workforce; and 4) provide systemic change yielding a higher level of economic impact for the region.
“This is collaborative effort built on partnerships,” Jones said. “We are excited that UWA will be joined by major industry groups, and key essential workforce development groups throughout the region and Alabama to make LINCS a reality, including existing regional workforce development councils such as West Alabama Works, Central Alabama Works and Southwest Alabama Works.”
For more information on the LINCS initiative or other projects of UWA’s Division of Economic and Workforce Development, call 1-833-UWA-WORK.