Regional study gives insight on workforce trends

Published 3:43 pm Friday, September 28, 2018

COLUMBIANA – Shelby County’s business community and educators gathered at First Baptist Church of Columbiana on Tuesday, Sept. 18, to learn the results of a study that provides insight into employment and workforce trends in the seven-county Birmingham metropolitan area.

Gus Heard-Hughes, vice president of programs for the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, presented findings from the Building (IT) Together study by Burning Glass Technologies and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, which consisted of an economic development and labor market analysis examining issues, opportunities to grow jobs and economic prosperity in the greater Birmingham region, which includes Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties.

Hughes said the region needs to act now in order to see growth and change.

“We’re still losing too many young people who could be valuable assets to our workforce,” he said.

Of those in the workforce, Shelby County Manager Alex Dudchock said 50 percent need to be educated on soft skills, which refers to things such as timeliness, work ethic, positive attitude, interpersonal and communication skills and appearance.

“Employers are having to teach employees these things,” Dudchock said.

Hughes said 43 percent of college graduates and 53 percent of doctoral graduates are leaving the area. When it comes to employment growth, Birmingham is lagging behind its competitors, Atlanta and New Orleans.

Birmingham’s job growth sits at 8.9 percent, while Atlanta is at 15.4 percent and New Orleans is 10.9 percent. Birmingham is also behind the national average, which is 10 percent.

To change these statistics, Hughes said the area needs to play to its strengths by growing in the areas of information technology, advanced manufacturing and biotech and life science.

“It’s important to prioritize economic development efforts so that they align with the strategic priorities of the future,” he said. “We also have to make sure education and training aligns with the needs of industries.”

Growing traded industries, which refers to goods and services that are produced here and distributed elsewhere to bring in new money, is also an area the needs improvement.

Alabama is second to last in the United States in start-up activity, which has created an entrepreneurship gap. The state does not have a strong enough workforce to support a startup culture. A fear of taking risks is among contributing factors.

Antiqua Clegget, executive director of Central Six Alabama Works, shared information about what Shelby County can do to begin taking steps in the right direction.

She said there needs to be a region-wide commitment to increase high school graduation rates and to retain talent coming out of college and graduate programs. She said the goal is for the study to be used to help develop a 10-year strategic plan for the region.

To see the full study, visit