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Building (it) together: A framework for aligning education and jobs in Greater Birmingham

Today, more than ever, the prosperity and competitiveness of cities and regions depends on their human capital. Those regions that are able to educate, train, attract, and retain individuals that meet the needs of the community’s employers will prosper, while those that don’t will quickly fall behind. In recent years, ‘talent’ has solidified its place at the top of employers’ priority lists as they look to locate and expand their businesses. A region’s workforce is its most powerful economic development asset. As the importance of human capital has increased, so has the rate of change throughout the labor market. Technological change and a globalized world mean that the right set of skills today for a given job will look very different than the right set of skills a few years from now for that same job. The responsibility over this dynamic – one that simultaneously holds the power to disrupt and the power to accelerate economic prosperity – does not fall squarely on a particular party’s shoulders. All players in the labor market – business leaders, educators, workforce intermediaries, and workers themselves – bear collective responsibility for whether or not a region’s workforce holds a region back or propels it forward., The people of the greater Birmingham region face a choice of how best to steward their most powerful economic development asset. In the years since the Great Recession there have been exciting developments throughout the region that have planted the seeds of future growth and shared prosperity. The completed Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham stands as a powerful metaphor of what could be: unity and rebirth from the foundation of the Magic City’s industrial past. The Innovation Depot buzzes with ambitious startups and world class computer processing capability. The region’s influential industries have begun to partner with Career and Technical Education programs, community colleges, and local universities in innovative ways around credentialing and training. Despite all the positive momentum, the region hasn’t yet channeled its collective energy into a single, unifying agenda that serves the interests of all of its citizens. A nimble and well-trained workforce that fully meets the needs of all current and future businesses in the seven-county region could be the focus of such an agenda. Such a focus isn’t just a business prerogative, it’s a social priority as well. The prosperity of Birmingham’s families and communities are inextricably tied to the health of the region’s employers (and vice versa)., Accepting collective ownership of moving the region’s labor market to a state of alignment will require change from every participant in the system. Employers will have to better communicate what it means to be successful on the job to workers and the institutions that train them. Educators will have to more fully embrace the challenge of understanding which ways the winds are blowing in the labor market their students will face. Cross-sector leaders of all stripes will need to ensure that adequate resources and energy are being allocated against the region’s workforce goals. Achieving this talent roadmap is well within Birmingham’s reach.