When the Great Recession hit, the state’s unemployment rate rose from less than 3 percent into the double digits. What had been a workforce crisis became a no-work crisis.
Now, as the economy improves, Alabama may again be heading for a workforce crisis. Or, at least, that was the message heard at the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama’s annual meeting last Friday.
Economists report that 59,000 jobs have been created since 2011 and that another 25,000 could be created next year. The question now is, will Alabama have workers who can fill them?
The fact that other states are facing the same problem is cold comfort. However, there is reason to believe Alabama learned something from the 2007 crisis that never materialized, and has programs in place that can supply the workers when the new jobs open up.
In many ways, Alabama faces similar problems. Technology is still expanding rapidly. The new labor force must not only be trained in existing technology, but must be flexible enough to adapt to what will come later. The current labor force is still aging and retirements are ongoing. When they leave, these workers take with them training and experience that new workers must replace. So it follows that what these new workers bring to the job is more important than ever.
However, budgetary pressure at the state and local levels continues to limit what schools and colleges can do to prepare these workers.
At the PARCA meeting, reports from Gov. Robert Bentley’s College and Career Ready Task Force and the five-year economic development plan (Accelerate Alabama) point to promising efforts that involve public education, the state and the business community.
The reports highlighted programs already in place and new initiatives that planners want to implement. The call for cooperation between public education and the business community is timely and progress is being made.
When educators approach the Legislature for the funding necessary to put planning into action, legislators should support them.
Heading off the coming workforce crisis will make Alabama a better place for all its residents, not just those who will get the new jobs. The Legislature cannot afford to let this opportunity slip away.