Workforce challenges and solutions in Birmingham: Solving the labor and employment challenges in Birmingham
The reality in Greater Birmingham and across Alabama is that we need more workers, better-trained workers, and more highly educated workers to keep up with industry needs.
In one of the many reports on this topic generated in recent years, The Alabama Workforce Council warned:
“Alabama’s low population growth and labor force participation rates make it unlikely that the state’s workforce will expand organically at the pace that’s needed to replace the waves of retiring employees or fill all of the new jobs being created by new and expanding businesses in Alabama in coming years.”
One researcher projected worker shortfalls in Alabama of 115,000 by 2020 and 219,000 by 2030.
Are there enough people in the Birmingham area available for hire if Amazon chooses the Magic City as its second headquarters?
That was just one of the questions discussed recently during a B-School Breakfast Series hosted by BHM Biz. Experts in labor and employment discussed the state of the workforce in the region and solutions to common hiring problems.
On the panel were Trent Scofield, labor and employment attorney, Burr & Forman; Katrina Cade, owner, PrideStaff; Josh Laney, senior director for Workforce Development, Alabama State Department of Education; Jeff Lynn, vice chancellor, Workforce and Economic Development, Alabama Community College System; and Forrest Cook, senior HR/Benefits consultant, SS Nesbitt.
Vice Chancellor, Workforce and Economic Development, Alabama Community College System
“There are three things you look for from an applicant: competencies, behaviors and technical abilities. That is true for whatever job. What we need to do better, while there are pockets of excellence, nothing is tied together where we have a strategic workforce plan for this state or for Birmingham.
“There are a lot of things we need to teach our parents, teachers and community about the great careers that we have out there. We have to put band aids on things to get kids ready to interview for work. It really amounts to breaking down the barriers between the companies and the educational facilities. It is a simple paradigm shift. We need to blow up the traditional model and start getting very innovative to get things done.”
“There are people out there, we know that. But quality people are what we are looking for—people with experience and education. You might find that quality person, maybe in light industrial or administrative, and then they don’t pass the drug test. Or they do pass the drug test but they don’t pass the background check. So you go through all of these things and you are preparing that person to start on Monday. Then they don’t pass one of the checks and you are back to square one.”
Sr. Director for Workforce
Development, Alabama State
Department of Education
“In Birmingham you have all of the pieces for successful workforce development, but they are not tied together as well as they could be. It is not a unique problem to Birmingham. You have solid K-12 systems, solid community college partnerships, plenty of university activity, great economic development folks here, but all of that stuff coming together is difficult. Everyone is pulling in the same direction, but we are pulling in parallel instead of on the exact same page.”
Labor and Employment Attorney, Burr & Forman
“One thing that I see especially in the area of compliance is, do we manage the expectation of the incoming employee with the needs of the employer? And many times, even if you have a candidate who is qualified and credentialed, without an on-boarding (process) that is qualified and intensive, the honeymoon may be over in a very short period of time.
“As a labor and employment lawyer I recognize how tough it is to be in HR. My job is to support HR to ensure two things. One, is the result going to fair? Is the decision going to comply with state and federal laws? I like to think what I do all day every day is help you solve problems.”
Senior HR/Benefits Consultant,
“I know there is a lot of territorialism, but we don’t have time for that. We need good people. If we can get the people with the intelligence to get through the first phase of what we have to go through, then we have to go through the drug and background checks. To get one person you have to go through 20, 30, sometimes 40 people to get that one viable hire these days. I have been there in that seat. It is tough.”
What would happen if Amazon chose Birmingham?
“Can we annex Mississippi? The community is not equipped to fill the positions we have. It would be fantastic, but we would have to put in so many resources to attract and train 50,000 people.”
“Who thought Mercedes would pick us? Then came Honda and Hyundai. Truly we are the Detroit of the South. We have done an amazing job for them. Amazon would be one of those great problems to have.”
“I am forever an optimist. I want them to come. I would do whatever I need to do, night and day, to make it happen. If there is an opportunity, let’s put our heads together and try to make it happen.” ∞