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Reimagining Talent Amid a Worker Shortage: Alabama’s Talent Triad Solution-Driven Ecosystem

By Kim LaFevor and Tim McCartney

Originally published in HR Professionals Magazine

Today, many businesses have closed or adjusted their production or hours of operation to acclimatize to the present labor shortage. No end seems to be in sight to this difficult quandary.  As HR professionals we all have been grappling for several years now with an increasingly too familiar problem that is front and center and which a viable solution is centric to each of our organization’s sustainability and success:  Finding, Attracting, and Retaining Talent.  The Right Talent—- and when and where we need it.  The pandemic did not solely create these present challenges, it is just accentuated it.  The stark reality necessitates that we must reimagine and create new staffing models that can nimbly and adequately adjust to the current and emergent workforce challenges to include:  1) access to available talent (for employers), the development of the right skilled talent (workforce development through providers), and effective modalities to connect job seekers with employers who so desperately needs them (applicant portals and career connections for applicants).

In this article, the state of the worker shortage and skilled talent gap will be unpacked, current challenges reviewed and a solution offered through an emergent solution-based approach in the State of Alabama which has created a Skills-based Talent Triad approach.  A solution to the present prodigious talent crisis calls for big and bold solutions, but what does that look like?  What is the ‘State of Worker Shortage’ and ‘Skilled Talent Gap Crisis’ and is a ‘Real Solution’ possible?  What are the applicable and pragmatic takeaways from the Talent Triad approach being spearheaded in Alabama? 

State of the Worker Shortage 

Let’s get straight to the point.  In summary, the U.S. has too many people without a job and too many vacant jobs without skilled labor to fill them which results in employers unable to optimally thrive in the present business environment.  This does not mean that there have not been noble efforts.  In 2021, businesses responded in a herculean manner to the existing labor shortage by adding an unprecedented 3.8 million jobs.  Sounds good, right?  Not exactly. The flip side is that while these staffing initiatives were underway, there was also a mass exodus of workers.  According to the Pew Research Center (2022), between February 2020 and 2021, a net of 2.4 million women (with Hispanic and Black women accounting for 46% of this total decrease) and 1.8 million men left the workforce with no intent to actively seek out reemployment.

There are four primary reasons for this worker mass exodus:

  1. Family Household Increase in Savings-Stimulus checks added $4 trillion to U.S. worker savings since early 2020 and enhanced unemployment benefits (which ended in September 2021) resulted in 68% claimants earned more than they did while working leading to higher income and economic stability.
  1. Early Retirement-Since the pandemic, over 3 million older workers 55 and over have opted for earlier retirements at an increasing rate over time.  Separations through retirement surged from 48.1% in Q3 of 2019 to 50.3% in Q3 2021.
  1. Lack of Access to Childcare-During the pandemic, many childcare providers closed or scaled back services.  As of Q4 2021, childcare industry employment still remains 10% lower than pre-pandemic levels.  Consequently, women’s participation rate in the labor force declined from 70% to 55% during this time, the lowest since the 1970s.
  1. New Business Starts-Many employees turned the challenges associated with the pandemic to an opportunity for entrepreneurship by leaving their employment to launch a business of their own.  During the last two years alone, more than 10 million new business applications were filed, and 4 million new businesses were started in 2020 alone.  (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, The Education Trust, 2022)

Amid these challenges, the U.S. labor force began a “Great Reshuffle.”  With the popularized “Great Resignation” (and hashtag #quittok), workers went social in sharing their reasons for leaving their jobs to find more free time, quality of life, or better opportunities.  In as much, labor participation has taken on new meaning as the labor pool sorts out whether or not to actively seek work which adds another layer of complexity to the talent crisis.

Skills Gap:  Federal & State Relief through Legislative Amelioration

Is the current talent crisis an employer, employee, state or national problem?  The answer is a definitive “yes,” and to all the above.  The amelioration of the present worker shortage and skills-gap will be dependent upon the accountability of all stakeholders.  Our workforce system is arguably somewhat broken.  It is not responsive to the changing jobs and evolving skill requirements, workforce training programs are not aligned to industry needs, and the workforce data infrastructure is outdated.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched an America Works initiative which proposes closing the jobs gap will necessitate:

  1. Helping Americans acquire the skills they need to fill today’s open jobs
  2. Improving educational and job training opportunities for the jobs of the future
  3. Removing barriers to entering the workforce
  4. Expanding the workforce through immigration reform

The onus is on legislative advocacy to produce the aforementioned outcomes that works in the best interest of employers and job seekers alike.

Creating a Talent-Based Ecosystem in Alabama:  Creating Relevant and Pragmatic Talent Solutions for Today’s Talent Crisis

While the national talent crisis continues to loom, the State of Alabama has developed an innovative solution.  Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey has placed a renewed call for a more modernized, adaptive, and resilient workforce development system that will substantively bridge the state’s talent shortage and skills gap.  This new workforce development system, or Talent Triad, composed of the Alabama Credential Registry which will be used to make each credential awarded to Alabamians transparent and will tag credentials to the competencies for which they denote mastery; the Alabama Skills-Based Job Description Generator and Employer Portal will allow employers to create customized job descriptions based on the “DNA” of the jobs in their firms; and the Alabama College and Career Exploration Tool, or ACCET, learning and employment record will allow job seekers to develop verified resumes and to link directly to skills-based job descriptions generated by employers.

The statewide goals of Alabama’s New Talent Triad Ecosystem are big and bold.  They include:  1) adding 500,000 credentialed workers to Alabama’s workforce by 2025, 2) extending opportunities to populations with barriers to entering education and the workforce, and 3) accelerating COVID-19 pandemic recovery by supporting Alabamians who have been displaced by the pandemic with reentering the workforce.

In a state that has been surgically focused in the areas of competency-based career pathways, work-based learning, apprenticeships, credentials of value, and career lattices, Alabamians have been provided a foundation for economic upward mobility through skill enhancement that allow for career progression from entry-level to middle-skills position, to an advanced-level career through the mastery of an increasingly rigorous levels of competency.   Furthermore, these gallant targeted outcomes center on 5 key policies that will create and deploy:  1) a statewide database to register all individual learning, 2) a statewide non-degree credit articulation index and credit transfer articulation crosswalk and articulation system, 3) recognition of all learning towards credits to credentials and careers, and 5) policies that provide support and remove barriers that exist between the creation of skilled labor and an employer job-ready workforce.

The Talent Triad’s continued momentum and success is dependent upon the avid synergies of advocates at all stages of the employment lifecycle; state, civic, and academic leaders, employers, job seekers, and the workforce development providers working collaboratively and in tandem to develop and deploy competency models and career pathways (by industry) supported through competency-based education, and skills-based hiring.  These vertical and horizontal partnerships reflect a comprehensive and systemic approach to creating a job-ready workforce and create a win-win for employers and job seekers alike.  The embedded technology solutions serve to operationalize Alabama’s competency-based education and skills-based hiring ecosystem, while the work of key stakeholders operationalize the important linkages for talent solutions.

Closing Remarks

The U.S. is at a crucial point where relevant and timely workforce solutions are needed.  Current workforce needs con, NDCtinue to fall short and the future remain unpredictable.  Therefore, it becomes especially critical that employing the right worker with the right skills be simple, fast and employer focused.  At the same time, solutions have to adequately and sufficiently address not only current employment needs, but also concurrently create a more modernized workforce development system that can be a long-term stalwart driver of economic growth and competitiveness.

Dr. Kim LaFevor, DBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, IPMA-SCP-CDP
Senior Executive to the President for Strategy & Innovation
Athens State University
Mr. Tim McCartney
Chair of the Alabama Workforce Council
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