Our latest Clearing the Path report and event continues the conversation around women as the solution to Alabama’s looming workforce challenges.

Last week, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham released the latest edition of our Clearing the Path research, Clearing the Path: Building a Sustainable and Inclusive Workforce for Alabama. This report is an extensive mapping of Alabama’s workforce development system, including the intersection with the social support system, to explore how policies, programs, and funding can better serve women and their families from Muscle Shoals to Mobile and everywhere in between.

The report was released at the Clearing the Path event on Friday, May 10, hosted by The Women’s Fund, for business, community, and elected leaders to discuss innovative ways the state is already addressing gender inclusivity in workforce development and key opportunities to build a sustainable workforce for our state.

The newest Clearing the Path report establishes a common understanding of the state’s workforce development structures, as well as how public policy can create a workforce system that leaves no woman behind. Research is core to The Women’s Fund’s mission. Key findings from the report show that while women in Alabama are well-represented in workforce development programs such as Career Technical Education and Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), they are under-represented in the labor force, employed at lower rates, more likely to be under-employed, and earn lower incomes.

According to the Alabama Workforce Council Statewide Educational Attainment Committee, the state must add as many as 500,000 highly skilled employees by 2025 to fill existing needs and compete for new industry; however, Alabama has the second lowest labor participation rate of any state with barely half of women participating. Women represent one of the state’s largest pool of untapped workers and the skilled labor gap cannot close until more women are working. Clearing the Path finds that raising Alabama’s labor participation rate to the national average could add an estimated 80,941 women to the workforce. Now is the time to address barriers that women face when entering and staying in the workforce, including access to affordable child care, post-secondary education and training, transportation, and health care.

Clearing the Path speakers and panelists (L-R: Secretary Greg Canfield, Susan Kennedy, Faye Nelson, Myla Calhoun, Rep. Debbie Wood, Melanie Bridgeforth, Cindi Vice, Guin Robinson)
The event featured an impressive line-up of speakers and panelists, including private sector leaders, elected lawmakers, and members of Governor Kay Ivey’s cabinet and administration.

Secretary Greg Canfield, Alabama Department of Commerce and the event’s keynote speaker, discussed Alabama’s strategic vision for workforce development, the reorganization of Alabama’s workforce structures, and the successes and challenges in addressing the state’s workforce needs. Guin Robinson, Associate Dean of Economic Development, Jefferson State Community College and Board member of The Women’s Fund, moderated a panel discussion focused on statewide efforts to attract and retain employees, as well as innovative business practices and public policy solutions to build a sustainable and inclusive workforce critical for Alabama. Panelists included Myla Calhoun, President, Alabama Power Foundation; Vice President, Alabama Power Charitable Giving; Executive Director, Alabama Business Charitable Trust Fund; Susan Kennedy, Kennedy Consulting; State Representative Debbie Wood (District 38, Valley); and Faye Nelson, Deputy Commissioner for Family Resources, Alabama Department of Human Resources.

“The Women’s Fund wants to foster a broader understanding of how Alabama’s workforce development system is working for women,” said Leslie H. Carlisle, Board Chair for The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and Owner of Carlisle and Associates: Philanthropy Consulting, LLC. “Industry is booming, and our state is hopeful about our economic future; however, as more women begin filling the gaps of the skilled worker shortfall, the unique barriers that women face as they enter the workforce become more apparent and must be addressed, potentially through public policy solutions.”

In order to have a more holistic impact, we made the deliberate decision earlier this year to formally engage in state-level advocacy and intentionally pursue public policies that create long-lasting, systemic change for women—and when women move forward, entire communities and the state of Alabama move with them.

“Data is vital to understand where you’ve come from and where you need to be in the future; put simply, what gets measured, gets changed,” explained Melanie R. Bridgeforth, President and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.

“Through our Clearing the Path report, The Women’s Fund is contributing valuable data, specifically on women, missing from the state-level discussion. We are proud to provide a wide-ranging summary of Alabama’s workforce development system and explore how the system can meet—or be changed to meet—the unique needs of women and their families.”

Previous Clearing the Path reports concentrated on barriers to employment facing single women with children and highlighted family-friendly workplace policies from companies in the Greater Birmingham region. This year Clearing the Path pivots its focus to innovative public policy solutions in order to create long-lasting, systemic change for women.

To learn more about Clearing the Path and read the full report, click here.

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