Broad Birmingham regional coalition is getting serious about workforce development and job growth

Photo from Building (it) Together.

This week, the Bold Goals Coalition of Central Alabama’s Workforce Action Network released a major report and launched a public engagement campaign focused on aligning education, economic development and workforce development to increase job growth in the Greater Birmingham seven-county region.

The report, Building (it) Together: A Framework for Aligning Education and Jobs in Greater Birmingham,” was developed by Burning Glass Technologies and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

Building (it) Together’s lead partners include Alabama Possible, Alabama Power, Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), Central Six  AlabamaWorks!, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Innovate Birmingham, Jefferson State Community College, United Way of Central Alabama and UAB.

Birmingham is only the second region nationwide to commission such a report from Burning Glass, giving the region a unique opportunity to take data-driven steps to move Greater Birmingham forward. More than 125 local business and industry representatives participated in focus groups conducted by CAEL, providing direct feedback that helped to inform the report.

Photo from the Building (it) Together.

“We live in a knowledge-based economy where the most important resource is our workforce. We have to proactively ensure they are equipped, trained and aligned with our growing industries,” said Sanjay Singh, local entrepreneur and chairman of the Birmingham Business Alliance’s Workforce Development Advisory Council.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Employment in the Greater Birmingham region is projected to grow 8.9 percent over the next 10 years.
  • Specific career fields that will experience supply gaps over the next 10 years include information technology (IT) and business and financial operations.
  • The region experiences significant departures of skilled workforce talent – 43 percent of local college students and 53 percent of local doctoral students leave the region after graduation.
  • Institutions of higher education are graduating students who can drive an innovation evolution within the region’s economy.
  • Greater Birmingham is resilient, but falling behind other southeastern cities:
  • The region has experienced a GDP growth rate of 8 percent since 2010. By comparison, surrounding metros reported double-digit growth.
  • The region has experienced an employment growth rate of 6 percent since 2010. By comparison, surrounding metros reported growth more than double Birmingham’s rates.
  • The region is lacking skilled and relevant workforce talent, and education and industry are misaligned. 78.5 percent of the region’s workforce is operating in low- or middle-skill positions. Future jobs will increasingly require relevant BA and Sub-BA degrees.
Building (it) Together meeting. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

“One of the things that jumped out with the plan (report) is how clearly we could see where the jobs are expected to grow in Birmingham over the next ten years and where the gaps are going to be in the skill sets. It is a clear road path. If we can get educators, non-profits and corporations aligned, talking to each other, aligned with the young people, we will fill those jobs. That was the strongest part of the report,” added Drew Langloh, President and CEO, United Way of Central Alabama.

The report issues the following recommendations:

  • Support existing industry and leverage a cluster-based approach to identify emerging companies and jobs, mainly in advanced manufacturing, life sciences and biotech, and IT.
  • Focus on growth in non-local, exporting industries to encourage new wealth circulation in Birmingham.
  • Invest in training related to targeted industries.
  • Expand co-op and alternate training opportunities.
  • Organize around recruitment of executive talent and support the risk taking necessary to change the local economy.
  • Encourage employers to reconsider credential requirements.
  • Strive for increased equity through nontraditional means, like IT boot camps.
  • Continue to increase high school graduation rates and the number of college- and career-ready high school graduates, and promote post-secondary educational attainment.
Photo from Building (it) Together.

Throughout the summer, network volunteers will coordinate region-wide community presentations on the findings to spur commitments to action and the implement recommendations. Community partners and stakeholders interested in hosting presentations on the findings can reach out to Shardé Oliver (Sharde.oliver@uwca.org) with the Bold Goals Workforce Action Network.

It is great to see a broad coalition working together regionally in  Birmingham to create a strong workforce and good paying jobs. Follow Building (it) Together on their Facebook page for future events.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.