Aligning Business and Education for Workforce Success

As strategic consultant and director of the Macon County Economic Development Authority, Joe Turnham sees firsthand the need for an educated and highly-skilled workforce.

He fields queries from business and industry looking to expand, and he knows that Alabama communities compete not only with their in-state counterparts to land potential jobs, but also out-of-state communities.

“At the end of the day, we have to be able to fill those opportunities with the best and the brightest workers,’” he said.

That’s why he was impressed that during our November Community Partner Roundtable, Alabama State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice and Alabama Community College System Chancellor Dr. Mark Heinrich addressed how the state’s K-12 and two-year systems are teaming up to provide opportunities for students to be prepared for either a career immediately following high school or college.

Dr. Heinrich noted that Alabama has a vast number of adults working below ability, but a large percentage could be upgraded with additional skills training through a remedial standpoint. Dr. Bice said efforts are underway to repurpose high school programs to sync with the two-year system for workforce preparation.

Dr. Bice also is committed that K-12 in Alabama will focus on giving our students the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for technical programs, two-year or four-colleges. Likewise, Dr. Heinrich is focused on making sure that the two-year schools in the state will align programs and curricula with the necessary skills that businesses in the region must have in order to be sustainable.

“I was very impressed with both gentlemen in their candor, their commitment to understanding and to get outside the box with the educational situation as it relates to economic development,” Turnham said.

For EDPA, it was inspiring to see top education leaders in Alabama speaking at our fall Roundtable luncheon in Montgomery who are aligned so closely in both philosophy and commitment when it comes to meeting the needs of business.

EDPA President Bill Taylor has been vocal in the need for Alabama to develop a strategy that knits together its two-year and four-year college systems and agencies offering job-specific training.

“That’s a great leadership role for EDPA to play,” Turnham said.

When work began on the state’s strategic plan for economic development nearly two years ago, we enlisted the active participation of Alabama’s two-year system and the universities. We believed that education must be a part of the effort to develop a plan for economic growth, given its critical role of educating and preparing a workforce that will be needed to help companies meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Now the alliance is even stronger with the addition of Dr. Bice as the state’s K-12 superintendent to the Alabama Economic Development Alliance, which manages implementation of the strategic plan, Accelerate Alabama.

We’re fortunate to have both Dr. Bice and Dr. Heinrich at this critical time for our state’s and our nation’s economy.

“The collaboration is absolutely necessary,” Turnham said. “We are going to have to be innovative.”

Val Walton