Ivey Emphasizes Education, Workforce Development and Infrastructure Needs at PARCA Conference

Gov. Kay Ivey talks with the media after her speech to the Public Affairs Council of Alabama. (Source: Robert Carter)

Gov. Kay Ivey told an audience in Birmingham that her administration will focus its efforts on bolstering the educational system so that children will be ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow’s high-tech economy as well as rebuilding Alabama’s infrastructure.

Ivey was the keynote speaker Friday at the annual meeting of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, which met to discuss how the state is doing in its job to help both students going into the workforce and adults moving into different fields adjust to the changing needs of the state’s employers.

“Alabama is in a position to achieve greater success,” Ivey said. “And as we look to our future, more than ever before, now is the time that we must be sure that our workforce is well-equipped to face the opportunities and the jobs of tomorrow.”

Speakers and government officials, including Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic, discussed the challenges of filling high-tech jobs, especially when about half the working-age population is not “credentialed.” Instead, they have a high school diploma or less, or they attended some college but dropped out before earning at least an associate degree.

Ivey praised statistics that show more Alabamians are working than ever before in history. “It proves that what we are doing is, in fact, effective,” she said. “In a little more than a generation, Alabama has become a powerhouse in the automotive manufacturing industry.”

The governor also cited growth in aerospace, particularly the expansion of the Airbus facility in Mobile, predicting that the city would soon become one of the top four cities in the world in that industry.

Summoning themes from her speeches on the campaign trail last year, Ivey touted her “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative, which includes improving pre-school education as the foundation for developing job skills, saying that it is helping make “great strides toward this goal.”

The initiative also focuses on computer science training throughout all schools and advanced training for high-tech jobs.

Ivey said that 500,000 jobs are projected to be created in Alabama by the year 2025, with most in advanced manufacturing, computer technology, and nursing. She also pushed the concepts of apprenticeships for high school students in certain fields and dual enrollment for high school students in courses that also grant college credit.

“Dual enrollment students may earn a diploma, an associate degree and an industry-recognized credential by the time they graduate from high school. That is possible, that is doable, that is the wave of the future, and we must press on with it,” Ivey said.

Roads, Other Infrastructure Need Updating

The governor added that industry and job development will be hindered by the state’s road system if it is not updated.

“A glaring issue facing us all in the great state of Alabama is our aging infrastructure program. … While our neighboring states have been making adjustments to their investment in infrastructure, Alabama has remained stagnant. For almost 30 years, we have made no change in the amount of our investment,” she said. “It’s just past time that we address and fix (this), and this is why improving our infrastructure investment is my absolute number-one priority.”

Ivey did not address how infrastructure investments would be funded, except to say that the amount spent must be “reasonable.” She did not mention a proposed increase in the state gasoline tax, which has been proposed for consideration in the upcoming session.

PARCA is a non-partisan policy research organization based at Samford University. It was founded by former Gov. Albert Brewer.