Workforce, Education Leaders Outline Plans for Filling Thousands of Jobs at New Auto Plant
We are all proud and excited to have Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, Inc. coming to Alabama. It’s more positive recognition for our state as a leader in business and industry. Plus, it’s great news for our economy. The plant alone is expected to require 4,000 people to run its operations. And, therein lies the question: Where will we get those people?
Recently, several key AlabamaWorks leaders participated in a forum hosted by the Alabama Automotive Manufacturing Association to address that looming question. Each provided information from his area of expertise on filling these positions — and backfilling the jobs that people will vacate to go to the new plant.
First, Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington shared the good news of Alabama’s extremely low unemployment rate of 3.7 percent. Alabama also has the fifth-lowest veteran unemployment rate in the country at 2.2 percent.
This is great news for those who are seeking employment; however, it is challenging news for employers seeking to fill jobs. To help close the gaps, the ADOL is taking jobs to the people, Washington said.
“We recently held a job fair at the Mobile Civic Center, with early admission for veterans. We had people lined up, waiting for the doors to open, with numerous employers in attendance,” said Washington. “Such events will continue to take place around the state.”
While north Alabama will soon be feeling the positive impact of a large automaker, the western side of the state has already experienced it, via Mercedes-Benz. Donny Jones, director of West AlabamaWorks and executive director of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, provided insight into what’s being done in his area to support automotive and other industries.
The region’s progress stems from a multi-pronged approach including the following areas: education and programs, policy, funding, and industry clusters.
“One of our signature events is Worlds of Work. It’s a hands-on experience that exposes eighth-graders in our nine-county region to careers that require less than a four-year degree. We’ve assisted other regions in developing this type of event in their areas, too,” said Jones. “The program has been extremely well-received. We have created WOWVarsity for ninth-graders and WOW2.0 where the students actually interview for jobs.”
West AlabamaWorks has also created the Educator Workforce Academy. Designed for principals, teachers and superintendents, it takes the educator on an in-depth journey into business and industry and includes plant tours. While there, they see and hear about hiring and skills needs, directly from the employer.
In addition, West AlabamaWorks operates a mobile career center unit that it takes to rural areas. Other initiatives include the West AlabamaWorks Workforce Center in Brookwood, which focuses on logistics training and other needs; and CareerConnect, a job-plus-employer-plus-training-plus-potential employee database initiative. “We have a plethora of programs and opportunities designed to ultimately unite employer and employee,” added Jones.
Next, Josh Laney, senior director for workforce development for the Alabama State Department of Education, told the audience what his agency is doing to plant the seed that not everyone should get a four-year degree.
“We believe that education and workforce development are relative to each other,” said Laney.
To begin the process of helping students understand what’s available, they are surveyed about their career interests. “Manufacturing usually ranks very low, since these kids have never seen the inside of a plant and don’t know the opportunities that are available,” Laney added.
Preparing kids for the workforce entails the education components of hard skills, career awareness and employability skills.
“Common types of work-based learning include internships, job shadowing, coop placement, apprenticeships,” he said.
In the Alabama Community College System, Workforce and Economic Development Vice Chancellor Jeff Lynn also outlined his organization’s multi-pronged approach to filling the thousands of expected automotive jobs.
“We are focusing on getting our people nationally-recognized certificates and credentials, such as Ready-to-Work, and from groups like the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council, the National Center for Construction, Education and Research, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills Inc. and the American Welding Society,” said Lynn. “We have embarked on a marketing campaign to promote the certificates as a means of obtaining a quality job in automotive and other industries.”
These program credentials also have benefits for the company that will hire these employees. “They will have a pipeline of skilled workers, decreased recruitment costs, eliminated remedial costs and time, and increased profits with improved safety performance, quality and productivity,” he added.
According to Lynn, the ACCS is targeting a number of workforce sources, including dual enrollment; adult education; military; traditional students; the existing workforce and those involved in corrections training. “All of these pools have the potential to produce certified workers.”
While the ACCS is providing credentials and certificates, the Alabama Department of Commerce — specifically AIDT — is tasked with directly assisting Toyota-Mazda in the screening, training and hiring process.
“We have many, many partners who are working with us to help these ventures succeed,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Director of AIDT Ed Castile. “These are both public and private agencies. It takes everyone.”
Based on previous endeavors, like Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Airbus, the workforce for Toyota-Mazda will encompass a large area. “We expect people to drive in from Tennessee for these quality jobs. On the flip side, we also anticipate Alabamians who are currently commuting to positions in Tennessee to shorten their drive and work closer to home,” added Castile.
Of course, there are those who will leave their present jobs with Alabama companies to take positions with Toyota-Mazda. “We will also help those companies backfill their open positions. We are here for both new and existing industries,” he said.
Alabama has a defined, proved plan to help businesses that come here to stay here and hopefully expand here. From the K-12 system and regional workforce councils to the ACCS and AIDT, the state and private business have laid the foundation for present and future success.