Alabama faces a shortage of 200,000 highly skilled workers to fulfill industry job predictions by 2025 unless it aligns workforce development programs and collaborations between business and education with what employers will need, said the Business Education Alliance in a report released today.
As Alabama shifts away from an industrial-based to knowledge-based economy, the BEA report stated, 60% of the working population will need to attain college-level degrees or credentials to qualify for jobs in 2025. Data for 2017 showed that 43% of the Alabama workforce possessed a college degree or other post-secondary education.
BEA, an advisory council made up of business and education leaders, issued the report, Education Matters: Measuring Alabama’s Progress toward 500,000 Highly Skilled Workers, as the first in a series of reviews of Alabama’s workforce development system.
“Our report sought to discover whether the state has the right tools in place to produce an increased number of highly skilled workers and what needs to change to ensure those workers are qualified for the jobs that will become available,” said Dr. Joe Morton, BEA chairman and president.
The report identified policy areas that need to be explored. Questions raised included: whether clear measures for college and career readiness have been established; what kind of commitment and plan is needed to increase math and science proficiency; how can the state rapidly expand pre-K capacity; and what is the best way to ensure career and technical certifications fully prepare students for employment.
Here are some of the key findings and recommendations included in the report:
College and Career Readiness:
Seventy-five percent of high school graduates are considered college and career ready, despite the statewide high-school graduation rate having increased to 90%.
The number of college-bound high school graduates is down from 65% in 2014 to 62% in 2017. The report points to state low unemployment rates, currently 2.8%, as a possible enticement for students to go straight into the workforce after high school graduation.
While pre-K classrooms were at 95% capacity in 2019, the vast majority of 4-year-olds are not participating in the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education First Class Pre-K program. The program now covers 37% of the state’s 4-year-olds.
Math and Reading Readiness
At the elementary and middle school level, Alabama fourth and eighth graders rank the lowest in national math scores. In reading, fourth graders rank 47th and eight graders rank 48th nationally.
Certificate Education and Training
Career and Technical Education and Certificate programs has proven to be one of the fastest-growing areas of post high-school education. The report found, however that the programs don’t always ensure career readiness and some are training students in areas where demand for employees is limited. The report highlighted two certificate programs, Beef Quality Assurance (8,995 trained), where the training did not match the job requirements, and Microsoft Office (14,781 trained), where the number of program participants far exceeded the expectation of the number of jobs that could be filled.
Data reveals that, in addition to education and training, population trends could also contribute to the workforce shortage. The report noted that population growth is slower than the national rate. In Alabama, the growth is at 2.3% while it is 5.3% in the U.S. Fewer people moved to Alabama between 2010 and 2018. While Alabama hasn’t lost population due to people moving away, fewer people move to Alabama than any of the 23 states that see an influx of people due to domestic migrations.
“BEA’s report shows that we must do more to prepare workers than try to reach a target number,” said Tim McCartney, Alabama Workforce Council chairman, “It is equally important the workers gain the critical skills they need to be competitive in the workplace as Alabama strives to be even more successful in the future.”