Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said that Alabama is enjoying a robust economy currently, but still needs to emphasize workforce training to take advantage of jobs being recruited for the state.
Washington gave a brief interview Wednesday following the presentation of the workforce safety award before employees of HTNA in Jasper. He had attended Gov. Kay Ivey's State of the State address in Montgomery the night before.
"Since I became governor, over $3.5 billion dollars in new direct investments have been committed in the state," Ivey told legislators Tuesday night. "These investments will create nearly 8,000 new jobs for Alabama workers. The unemployment rate has fallen every month since I became governor. Our most recent unemployment numbers put the unemployment rate at 3.5 percent – the lowest rate ever recorded in Alabama. My friends, Alabama’s economy is supporting more jobs than ever before."
"Alabama is booming right now," Washington said Wednesday in Jasper. "You look at the strong headwinds the state is experiencing right now in workforce development, the fact we had the lowest unemployment in (the state's) history last year at 3.7 percent (in early 2018), the fact more people are working now than ever and also how we shatter what the forecasters forecast in terms of job growth - 45,000 new jobs in 2018. Those are three really strong headwinds for the State of Alabama."
In a column in early February, Washington noted 27,000 jobs had been predicted in the state by 2018, and that it was the third year in a row expectations had been met. The number of people working in December was 2,130,194, closing out seven consecutive months of record-breaking highs, and a full year of consecutive increases in employment. It also represented 50,000 more jobs than the year before.
December also represented a record high of 2,072,600 wage and salary jobs (the number of jobs the state's economy supports), he said in the column. That amounted to 2.2 percent growth over the previous December, and 2 million jobs, reached in 2017, essentially represents reaching a long-term goal of full employment for the state, he said then.
The annual average unemployment rate for the state was 4 percent in 2018, which was below 2017’s annual average of 4.4 percent.
Washington said Wednesday the biggest challenge to continue that job growth was making sure the state has a trained, qualified workforce to move into jobs that the Department of Commerce is recruiting into the state.
"That is what is so important about what ADOL (the Alabama Department of Labor) does," he said. "It is to make sure we have a trained work force, to make sure our public knows about the training opportunities through our career centers."
Asked about the role of community colleges like Bevill State Community Center, Washington said, "The collaboration between Gov. Ivey's administration and the community college system couldn't be any better right now. We want to go out with one consorted message to make sure the training programs through the community colleges and what we do at the Alabama Department of Labor are in line with her vision."
In terms of the announced April 15 closing of Alabama Power's Plant Gorgas, Washington said planning is underway to make sure a pathway is provided to place displaced workers into other opportunities. (Alabama Power has also announced that it is offering the workers other positions within the company.)
"Right now there are 28,000 active jobs available on the Department of Labor's website alone," he said. In his earlier column, he noted JobLink (joblink.alabama.gov), the state’s free online jobs database, registered 224,724 job orders last year.
Asked what would be the biggest advice he would give people looking for a job in this state, Washington suggested they go to one of the 50 state career centers across the state and allow one of the professional staffers to do an assessment and give recommendations on the careers and jobs they should seek.