Upwards Virtual Career & Training Fair a Must for Out-of-Work Alabamians

There are 42,146 people out of work in North Alabama. 

The additional $600 a week people have been receiving from the federal government is scheduled to end July 31, and taking the initiative to bring down that 7.8 percent unemployment rate as quickly as possible is the focus of the Upwards Career & Training Fair. It will be one of North Alabama’s first, virtual hiring events, and the fair runs July 14-16.

Spearheaded by the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with local business and civic leaders, including the AlabamaWorks! North Alabama workforce council and a variety of educational partners from the surrounding 13-county region, the Upwards Career & Training Fair has been organized specifically to assist these dislocated workers impacted by COVID-19. 

North Alabama’s Region 1 includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, and Winston counties. 

The event will match job seekers with employers who have available, high-demand jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. It will also look to upskill or reskill workers with training opportunities designed to leverage workers into high-demand, good-paying jobs. The upskilling and reskilling portion of the event was a big focus for the state of Alabama before the pandemic.

There is no cost to register; employers, training organizations and job seekers throughout the North Alabama region should register at UpwardsAlabama.com before July 14.

It is easy for job seekers to register, upload a resume, and explore the companies and training resources offered. There are also recommended times for job seekers and companies to hook up online and talk. 

Those times, designed to suit a variety of schedules are July 14 from 1-4 p.m.; July 15 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.; and July 16 from 9 a.m. until noon.

Once registered, each company or training organization will be able to build a virtual booth with a welcoming video to the job seekers that explains more about the company or organization, including the mission, vision, values, and potential opportunities to grow.

It will also provide at least one specific position for which they are hiring, with a complete job description and three specific interview questions that align with the company’s culture or the specific position.

To make it even easier, the Chamber of Commerce is offering a mobile-friendly experience for those workers who do not have access to a computer.

Once again, Huntsville’s regional economy is pulling together to give the workforce a boost – not just as a long-term strategy for economic growth, but in response to the worker in times of uncertainty where creative thinking and positive initiatives help the region recover as quickly as possible.

Huntsville Shows Resilience as New Economic Numbers Are Mixed Bag

New economic impact numbers have been released and according to the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce Research Director Ken Smith, they provide a snapshot into exactly what kind of impact COVID-19 has had on our local economy, and how that information compares to the national numbers.

While there is some bad news in the data, albeit expected; there is quite a bit a good news going forward as Huntsville proves to be overwhelmingly resilient.

According to Smith’s presentation on a recent teleconference call with Chamber members, there was a big dip in employment coming off March into April with Huntsville employment at 226,000. The one-month change showed an 8.3 percent dip, which Smith said is a significant drop. However, compared to the U.S. employment numbers of -13.1 percent, Huntsville stayed well ahead of the national statistics.

Furthermore, according to early calculations for May, employment has already started ticking back up, showing a 2 percent increase in employment from April to May.

“We are looking at what analysts are saying is a two-year recovery for GDP and a possible three-year recovery for employment to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Smith. “We are about 7.5 percent below where we were this time last year, as compared to 13 percent for the U.S. economy. That translates into 10.6 percent unemployment locally, which is a big jump, but not bad when compared to the U.S., which was up to 14.4 percent.

“The Federal Reserve recently announced they are not likely to raise interest rates until after the year 2022. So this gives us hope and a sign it will be the same for the local Huntsville economy, and it will rebound, which falls in line with what the Federal Reserve has been predicting.”

Looking at the two-year picture, backing up to January 2018, the numbers show the precipitous drop in April wiped out any gains over the past few years, and the same can be said for the U.S. economy, which lost 20,000,000 workers over the past month. It added back 3 million in May.

“We at the Chamber use trends in our marketing to potential new clients interested in moving their business into the area,” said Smith. “They like to see that our economy is strong.

“If you look out over 20 years instead of two years, you can see Huntsville’s employment growth is about twice the rate of the U.S. and it has been trending that way since 2000.

Smith’s data charts show the dip in 2008, which was the recession. It took Huntsville about five years to recover and get employment back to pre-recession levels. It took the U.S. six years.

“But what they’re predicting now is a larger drop but a shorter recovery,” said Smith. “That is a three-year recovery in employment and four years for the U.S. to recover.”

Looking at employment by industry, there are no surprises.

The biggest local job loss was in the leisure and hospitality industry, losing 8,000 jobs from March to April. That includes all the arts, entertainment, and recreation, and hotel and food services.

The second biggest loss for Huntsville was in professional and business services.

Huntsville lost 4,100 jobs during that same time period, and where engineering and technology workers did not see a big job loss, the losses were in support services such as office and administrative, cleaning services, document preparation, and employment services. With companies closed or people working from home, there was a lot less need for some of that support.

The third largest drop was some 1,500 jobs in a sector that included repair and maintenance businesses, hair and nail salons, and nonprofit organizations.

Smith said Huntsville’s employment by industry matches up pretty well against the U.S. hospitality and leisure sector, which lost 7.2 million jobs.

“Huntsville dropped about 36 percent, so we see over one-third unemployment in leisure and hospitality, where the U.S. lost almost half in that sector at about 46 percent,” said Smith. “Huntsville expects to gain it back.”

In areas where Huntsville fared pretty well, the retail trade industries only lost about 5 percent, compared to the U.S. at about 14 percent.

Huntsville also did well in manufacturing, losing only about 4 percent compared to the U.S. losing about 10 percent overall.

In the areas of construction, wholesale trade, and transportation, Huntsville lost very few jobs compared to the national numbers, but transportation is not a very big industry in the local market.

Huntsville also did not lose many jobs in finance or in the government sector.

Looking at the good news, Moody’s Analytics did an analysis at the end of May showing a sharp drop with a continued recovery through the rest of this year 2020.

“A lot of people might think, ‘Well, all we did was put on the brakes. Why can’t we just start right back up and go back to where we were two months ago?’,” said Smith. “That’s typically not going to happen. We saw after the 2008 recession it took five years to get back to pre-recession levels.

“Here, they are expecting a recovery, but not an immediate one. Huntsville is looking at two years for GDP and three years for the employment to recover, which is one year earlier than the U.S.

Why is Huntsville’s recovery faster than the U.S.?

Moody’s points to some of the area’s key strengths.

“It’s interesting to see how the short-term and long-term statistics show us in expansion mode, which is pretty positive,” said Smith.

Some of those strengths are Huntsville’s extremely highly skilled and educated workforce in areas of advanced manufacturing at key companies like Mazda Toyota, for example; and research jobs such as those at Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Moody’s mentions all three specifically.

Huntsville’s robust population growth and favorable migration is part of it too. It comes on the heels of new population numbers recently released showing Huntsville’s population hitting over 200,000 for the very first time, so that is definitely something to note.

In terms of weaknesses, Smith said Huntsville still gets knocked down because of our dependence on the government sector with an underrepresented private sector.

Also wage growth is slow, due in part to a higher-educated workforce whose wages are already on the upper end, so there is less room to grow.

“Lastly, if we look into the Moody’s forecast a little more deeply, you can see the year-by-year percent growth, and you can see where we were trending before 2019,” said Smith. “We were outpacing the U.S. economy in growth and jobs so this is why we say Huntsville’s economic recovery and employment growth is better, and will be faster than the U.S.”

Smith also said the Chamber still has companies interested in locating their businesses in the Huntsville community and they are working on several projects on the commercial side.

“We are still seeing a lot of investment companies and private investors looking to continue their projects here, so from the Chamber perspective, we are primed and ready!

“It’s a very difficult time for many people, especially small business, but the balance of the skilled workforce and job growth makes Huntsville residents better able to support their families than some,” said Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry. “There’s a lot of job growth and information that shows companies are hiring, and there is a lot going on Redstone Arsenal too, so there are still a lot of opportunities in this market.

“We are not recession-proof, but we are a lot more resilient than some,” Cherry said.

 

Q&A with Sen. Doug Jones: Workforce Development

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) recently sat down with the Huntsville Business Journal and discussed several issues important to our state and nation.  This is the first installment of five reports from the interview. Today’s topic is Workforce Development.

As a strong proponent of workforce development initiatives, Sen. Doug Jones introduced the Working On Rewarding and Keeping Employees Resilient (WORKER) and the Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Acts.

Sen. Jones: “… some jobs are going to be eliminated, but it will also give us opportunities.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

The legislation was designed to increase federal investments in workforce development and training to help prepare workers for the jobs of the future and to promote education and training for workers in high-demand industries, along with the expansion of registered apprentice programs.

The WORKER Act would:

  • Expand programs in engineering at elementary and secondary schools by awarding grants to local educational agencies to support, develop, and implement formal and informal engineering education programs in elementary and secondary schools;
  • Expand programs in maker education at schools to teach hands-on skills in design and manufacturing by amending the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to allow funding for “maker education,” “makerspaces,” and training for teachers;
  • Expand promotion of registered apprentice programs by the Department of Labor, including outreach to underrepresented populations, young people, and veterans;
  • Promote collaboration with post-secondary institutions to promote apprenticeships, including allowing academic credit for apprenticeship programs;
  • Coordinate unemployment programs with career counseling, job search assistance, training assistance, and income support services to better support unemployed workers in finding a job;
  • Create a Training Voucher program to support dislocated workers completing short term training in in-demand industry sectors; and,
  • Create a stipend for dislocated workers to ensure their transportation and child care costs can be covered while they retrain for new jobs.

The Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act would:

  • Create a grant program through the Department of Labor to support industry or sector partnerships in developing and carrying out training programs for workers who are, or are likely to become, dislocated because of advances in technology, including automation.
  • Increase funding for National Dislocated Worker Grants and amend the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to ensure workers who are dislocated by automation are included in WIOA programs.
  • Direct the GAO to conduct a study of the barriers to providing, and opportunities for improving, training for workers in industries that are most likely to be impacted by automation.

These two key pieces of legislation were developed to help ensure that employees throughout Alabama and the nation are prepared for and have access to well-paid skilled jobs and have the skills that they need to successfully navigate the transition that will result from advances in automation and technology.

HBJ: Can you tell us about the Tomorrow’s Workforce and WORKER acts?

Sen. Jones: “… if we want to continue to attract industry to this state, we’re going to need a trained workforce.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

Jones: There are a lot of things that we’re doing that reflect what I believe, are meeting some of the more pressing needs in Alabama. We’ve got low unemployment, which is great; but, at the same time, if we want to continue to attract industry to this state, we’re going to need a trained workforce.

We’re also seeing that automation is going to continue at the pace – if not a quicker pace, than we’ve seen. That’s going to mean that some jobs are going to be eliminated, but it will also give us opportunities.

The work that we’re doing with both career-technical advances as well as the Tomorrow’s Workforce and WORKER bills are going to do things to plan for that: to get people trained, to see what niches can be filled with workforce development, whether that’s through a four-year college, a two-year college, or some type of apprenticeship or certification program.

I’m really big on apprenticeships. I’d like to see more public-private type partnerships; companies going into the schools.

We’re looking at a little bit of red tape to cut out, first. The Department of Labor requires a lot, so we’re looking at that.

That’s the gist of what those bills are going to be doing. To make sure that we’ve got the 21st century workforce for the companies that will be coming as automation takes over.

HBJ: What about dislocated workers?

Jones: It’s going to be an issue for everybody; it’s going to be an issue for Alabama.

We’re moving in a way to help make sure that our infrastructure and our jobs save this planet. That’s going to transition away from some things into new forms of energy.

There are a lot of opportunities there, but you’ve got to be able to transition. You can’t just flip a switch and cut off fossil fuels. What we’re seeing is that more and more companies are now coming to the table to talk about that.

We’ve got issues down in Gadsden right now, where a number of workers are going to be laid off from the Goodyear plant, which is likely to close. We need to get them over to Gadsden State or some other places to let them learn new skills and new trades because they’re still of working age.

Some of those workers will be displaced workers in the sense that their jobs may get phased out. They are still employable; they have families and they’re going to want to work.

We’ve got to do the training and education that will help with that. Our two-year college system is primed to do that.”

(Tomorrow: Sen. Jones discusses the state of health care and efforts to help improve it)