The head of Alabama’s workforce development efforts says getting workers to the right place with the right skills is still a numbers game, but the workforce can’t be addressed just like a number.
Ed Castile is executive director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. In a recent address to the Alabama Economic Development Association and subsequent interview with Alabama NewsCenter, Castile said the state’s approach to workforce development in 2022 is more nuanced and holistic. than ever.
“If we found out anything during the pandemic, we found out that this workforce has a lot of needs and you can’t just dismiss it,” Castile said. “You have to focus on those needs.”
Castile said people had been talking about “workforce development” for so long that they were starting to think of it as an inanimate object or a commodity.
But what the “workforce” really consists of are real people with real needs and if you are really committed to “development”, those needs must be taken into account.
Ed Castile talks about Alabama’s workforce development efforts from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.
This means looking at things beyond getting jobs with the necessary skills. This means making sure they can succeed without worrying about childcare, the work environment, and other issues.
“The emotional side and the safety of the family — that’s also the mental part,” Castile said. “It’s not just physical needs, it’s mental and emotional needs. This is very important today in the job market. We have to understand this and deal with it. »
Castille said that by working with the state’s seven regional labor councils, Alabama is more successful in identifying worker needs. And in collaboration with employers, the state helps prepare supervisors and floor managers to better meet these needs.
While you can’t look at workers as numbers, Castile said it’s still a challenge to supply the volume of workers businesses need in the state.
“Numbers are always a challenge. We haven’t solved the problem by any means, but it’s better,” Castile said. “That’s challenge number one.”
To put it into perspective, when Mercedes-Benz US International opened its auto plant in Tuscaloosa County in 1994, Castile said the first call for applications for the top 20 jobs drew 63,000 applications. Today, some calls for applications may not bring in enough valid applications for the number of vacancies.
“Luckily things are looking up a bit in the numbers,” Castile said. “Maybe it’s inflation. Maybe some of the programs we’re trying to launch are launching now and starting to show progress. Maybe all of these things combined are showing us some positive trends. Right now all we’re looking for is positive and it’s looking pretty good.
One such program is the Modern Manufacturing program, which was launched at Mercedes in August 2021 and is being rolled out to other automakers this year. It works with school systems to identify and train those interested in entry-level jobs in the state’s advanced manufacturing plants.
“All of them will launch this fall, so it will probably be 12 months, 18 months before we can see any good data,” Castile said.
Veterans are another group the state has made great strides in helping to integrate into the workforce. Castile said Alabama’s military transition program has established pipelines with Operation Next and the Department of Defense SkillBridge at Fort Benning. They are able to identify service members looking to leave the service after completing their four-, six-, and 12-year commitments and entering the workforce.
Castile said the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship creates apprenticeship programs for companies, including those that don’t traditionally offer them.
Much of the work being done to impart needed skills to workers is due to a decade gap when schools in Alabama did not emphasize technical training – like the shop class that was once a mainstay. high schools.
“That’s the hole we see,” Castile said. “They don’t have the skills. In our program, we have not done so much teaching as training. Now we’re doing both – as much teaching as some training skills – just upgrading them. It’s just the world we’re in.
Now, schools are emphasizing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) which helps better prepare students before they enter the job market. Castile highlighted the work of the Alabama STEM Council, which helps schools strengthen STEM teaching and mastery.
“I think our state may be a little bit later in the game with STEM than some states, but we have a phenomenal council led by some really good people,” Castile said. “STEM is now a basic education for anyone considering advanced manufacturing careers.”
Workforce development has long been a force in the state’s economic development efforts, and Castille said the new tools and holistic approach will ensure that remains the case.
“We have a very good workforce, which is why businesses are investing in our state,” he said.