By Jim Bakken
Birmingham won big with the U.S. Department of Labor Education and Training Administration’s announcement of $111 million in America’s Promise grants awarded to 23 recipients that will connect more than 21,000 Americans to tuition-free education and in-demand jobs.
The DOL awarded roughly $6 million to the Innovate Birmingham Regional Workforce Partnership, a broad coalition of public, community, business and education leaders committed to fostering economic growth for the region and offering better opportunities for young adults. The grant proposal submitted by the Partnership set forth a plan to provide industry-specific skills for Birmingham citizens to obtain 925 high-paying jobs.
University of Alabama at Birmingham President and Birmingham Business Alliance Board Chairman Ray L. Watts says UAB is excited to have the opportunity to help lead this important project that combines education, community service and economic development, touching several key priorities of the institution’s multifaceted mission.
“The main focus of this effort is to offer new educational opportunities for the young adults in our community to provide them with training and expertise that will enable them to have prosperous, bright futures,” Watts said. “It will positively change their futures and the futures of their families and communities.”
The Innovate Birmingham Regional Workforce Partnership’s program will fuel inclusive innovation for local employers by meeting workforce demand in information technology with sustainable, demand-driven education, training and employment opportunities for area young adults who are disconnected from the labor market. The approach uses TechHire data in combination with local resources to align education and training providers with regional employers, ensuring industry-aligned skill development for workers.
The workforce development framework strengthens ties between two- and four-year higher-education programs and builds bridges to nontraditional education programs while connecting students in secondary schools to opportunities for training and development for high-demand IT occupations.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” said Birmingham Mayor William Bell, “and the City of Birmingham leadership is proud to be among the dedicated team who combined their time, expertise and resources to make a compelling plan that truly embodies the spirit of America’s Promise and will have a great impact in our communities.”
Watts says the successful grant process was spearheaded strategically by UAB’s Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., director of External Affairs in the Office of the President and principal investigator for the grant. As principal investigator, Carpenter will coordinate the contributions of a robust network of partners uniquely positioned to train and equip 925 young adults ages 17-26 in Birmingham for high-paying, high-demand occupations in the IT sector. IT impacts critical functions for numerous industries in the region, including health care, advanced manufacturing and finance.
The award, Carpenter says, is a testament to the broad base of leaders in the community who are deeply invested in creating opportunities.
“Our partners all want to see young adults succeed, as well as our local economy’s continued evolution as it grows and thrives,” Carpenter said. “Preparing this grant submission was an inspiring team effort indicative of the collaborative work we will do together that will absolutely change lives and transform communities.”
UAB serves as the fiscal agent for the consortium and will lead implementation of the grant programs in collaboration with Innovate Birmingham partners. The program will be administered in the UAB Innovation Lab, or UAB iLab, at Innovation Depot as an important early initiative laying groundwork for a future Birmingham innovation district. Innovation Depot is home to more than 100 startups and will facilitate connections between grant participants and jobs with Innovation Depot companies and other partner businesses.
According to TechHire data, the Birmingham region experienced the second-fastest IT job growth in the country during the first half of 2016, meaning regional workforce supply of IT skills is critical moving forward.
“At Innovation Depot, we know that IT skills stimulate entrepreneurial activity and benefit our startup companies in the highly competitive and fast-moving technology space,” said Innovation Depot President and CEO Devon Laney. “That’s why we partnered with Platypi CEO Matt Landers to found Depot/U — Alabama’s first software developer boot camp — in 2015 as a way to train software developers in-house. We are proud to build upon this program’s impact by helping to prepare youth for high-demand IT occupations through partnership in Innovate Birmingham.”
The City of Birmingham will coordinate resources from the TechHire designation to enable the Partnership to systematically identify gaps in training and employment in the IT sector, and the Birmingham Business Alliance will spearhead employer engagement outreach and strategy.
“As a result of this grant, a new tech talent pipeline will connect our community with high-demand information technology jobs and training,” said Birmingham Business Alliance President and CEO Brian Hilson. “Birmingham companies have expressed a need for more tech talent, especially homegrown talent. This grant continues to build on existing Birmingham Business Alliance workforce programs, as well as the TechHire initiative and many others, to engage a wide variety of workforce partners and lay the foundation for Birmingham to meet the IT talent demands of existing companies and those companies yet to come to Birmingham. The BBA is excited to support the work of UAB and our community in this endeavor.”
The Jefferson County Workforce Investment Board will assist in aligning grant strategies with WIOA regional planning and training activities, and provide referrals and Individual Training Account scholarship assistance and authorization. The Alabama Career Centers within Jefferson County will provide referrals and assist with tracking project participants to employment and job retention, as well as provide assistance with identifying job opportunities and with supportive services.
The Central Six Workforce Development Council will build upon experience in managing sector strategy workforce councils to enable the Birmingham Tech Council to establish mechanisms for connecting employers to education service providers and workers through collaboration with TechBirmingham, the regional tech association for 250 member companies that will facilitate employer engagement for the Birmingham Tech Council by building upon regional models established by Central Six.
“Central Six Alabama Works is excited about the opportunity to prepare more of our citizens for jobs in the field of information technology,” said Antiqua Cleggett, Central Six Development Council executive director. “We are enthusiastic about the cluster model and encouraging dialogue between industry and educators to create a better-skilled, better-qualified worker.”
Generation is a project of the McKinsey Social Initiative that will pioneer the development of demand-driven learning programs that prepare participants with short-term, intensive training as computer support specialists. Depot/U will teach aspiring software developers front-end or full-stack development skills using an accelerated boot camp model.
“We are very excited to partner with employers, education providers and community-based organizations to launch Generation in Birmingham,” said Generation U.S. Program Manager Allison Moomey. “We look forward to tailoring the methodology we have used to train 1,000 young adults in eight U.S. cities to serve youth in Birmingham.”
Two-year higher-education institutions Lawson State Community College and Jefferson State Community College will provide certificate and associate degree training and credentialing in IT.
“Lawson State is a proud partner in Innovate Birmingham, and this grant will enable us to continue preparing students for careers in information technology,” said Lawson State President Perry W. Ward, Ph.D.
“Jefferson State is committed to providing the education and training necessary to improve the lives of our students and the communities we serve,” said Jefferson State Interim President Keith Brown, J.D. “We are looking forward to the opportunity to work alongside UAB and our tremendous partners to increase the pipeline of skilled IT workers for Birmingham’s tech industry.”
The Birmingham Education Foundation supports Birmingham City Schools and will bridge secondary to postsecondary pathways by recruiting participants into the pipeline and providing mentoring services for enrolled participants.
“The Birmingham Education Foundation is thrilled to partner with UAB, Birmingham City Schools and so many other great organizations to expand opportunities in the tech industry, including for our youngest leaders,” said Birmingham Education Foundation Executive Director J.W. Carpenter.
Alabama Possible’s Cash for College program will provide assistance with FAFSA completion for area youth and college-entry support.
“This award is another sign that Birmingham stands ready to equip young adults with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life,” said Alabama Possible Executive Director Kristina Scott.
The Dannon Project is a nationally recognized job development and case management program that will serve as the first point of contact for participants, performing intake and providing supportive services, case management and pathway development.
“The Dannon Project is excited about the possibilities these opportunities will afford young people in our community,” said Executive Director Kerri Pruitt, MBA. “We believe this opportunity is uniquely designed to propel young adults to a successful future in the tech industry.”
Activities for the four-year grant will begin Jan. 1, 2017, with intent to begin training in the spring of 2017.
Employer partners and industry association representatives who will facilitate employment opportunities include: Alabama Power, Autotec, the Birmingham Business Alliance, BBVA Compass, Brasfield & Gorrie, City of Birmingham, Coca Cola Bottling Company–Birmingham, CTS, EBSCO, Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, Fetch, Honda, Help Lightning, Mayer Electric Supply, McLeod Software, Mercedes-Benz, Motion Mobs, Pack Health, PhishMe, Platypi, ProAssurance, Protective, Regions, Southern Research, Tech Birmingham, UAB, and Viperline.
Inspired by President Barack Obama’s America’s College Promise plan to make two years of community college free for responsible students, America’s Promise grants are designed to accelerate the development and expansion of regional workforce partnerships committed to providing a pipeline of skilled workers in specific sectors.
“These grants are part of the Obama administration’s unprecedented investment in education and training programs that have helped to create more pathways to the middle class for millions of Americans,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “By encouraging regional collaboration and delivering on the promise of tuition-free training at community colleges, these grants will help strengthen local communities across America, and ensure that employees and employers alike are able to compete and thrive in today’s global economy.”
The America’s Promise grant competition was initially announced by Vice President Joseph Biden and Dr. Jill Biden in April 2016. Funded through fees paid by employers to bring foreign workers into the United States, America’s Promise grants are intended to raise the technical skill levels of American workers and, over time, help businesses reduce their reliance on temporary visa programs.
Area residents 17-26 years old interested in applying for the program may email email@example.com for more information.