Education community working to ensure students are prepared for workforce

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 7:53 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama’s economy is growing, and higher education leaders want to make sure students have the skills they need to thrive in today’s workforce.

“We need to make sure that what we’re offering is really what the employers in this state need,” said Jim Purcell, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE).

That’s why ACHE held a meeting at Alabama State University Thursday to address how colleges and universities and local employers can work together to best prepare students for a job after they graduate. Purcell said they have developed an education workforce needs index that specifically identifies what each region in the state is looking for in an employee.

“We invited, really, community leaders within these regions and the campuses, of course, that support them, and helping them connect and really talk about what the real issues are,” Purcell said.

In 2021 alone, the state’s commerce department reported an addition of over 10,000 new and future jobs, and it’s up to higher education leaders to make sure students have the skills they need after graduation to work in these industries.

Sometimes students graduate and can’t find a job with their degrees. Educators say they need a better idea of what these employers are looking for in their next candidate so they can cater their curriculum to better prepare students.

Purcell said they need to make sure they keep the state’s economy supported with people that have the skills to meet the ever-evolving economy.

“Because it’s so advanced technologically right now, they really do have to get some additional training just so they can be marketable in the workplace,” Purcell said.

Purcell said Alabama is predicted to replace about 25% of employees in about 20 counties with automation.

“There’s going to be job losses here unless of course we can build the skill sets that are attractive to the business industries that are coming to Alabama,” Purcell said.

It’s all in hopes in hopes of tackling one of the state’s biggest problems: keeping good talent at home in Alabama.

Gov. Kay Ivey set a goal of adding 500,000 newly credentialed people to the workforce by 2025. According to the Commission on Higher Education, two-thirds of all new jobs being created in Alabama will require a four-year degree. However, education officials also point to a number of quality jobs available to two-year degree recipients or specially trained high school graduates.

Purcell added that some of the degrees that employers are looking for right now are advanced manufacturing at the associate level and health care and clinical sciences at the bachelor level.

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