Experts: Training, transportation and child care shortages straining Alabama workforce
A state committee listens to presentations on Alabama’s low workforce participation rate on OCt 30, 2023. (Ralph Chapoco/Alabama Reflector)
If Alabama’s workforce participation rates are low, it’s due to a lack of training, transportation and child care, experts told an Alabama House committee on Monday.
“The bulk of it, I think, is what we are here for today, and that is, ‘well, I don’t have a consistent transportation to get to work,’” said Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “They can get to something maybe a couple of times throughout the week, but can they depend on that transportation every day, especially if the shift starts at 6 a.m or 7 a.m.?”
Alabama in September had an unemployment rate of 2.2% in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the lowest in state history. But its workforce participation lags the nation.
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According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the state had a September labor force participation rate of 56.8% compared to a national average of 62.8. Only four states – Mississippi (54.5%); West Virginia (54.7%); and South Carolina and New Mexico (56.2% each) had lower rates.
The Federal Reserve cites several factors preventing people from entering the workforce, including job skills and educational attainment. Child care and access to transportation are also significant and workforce programs and access to health care also play a role.
Castile spoke of mothers who are dropping out of the workforce as they struggle to find people to take care of their children.
“The data shows we lost some mothers who really just need to stay home with the children,” Castile said. That, he said, creates a tradeoff between staying at home versus earning a living and having to pay for childcare.
Castile and others have tried offering incentives, such as gift cards, to entice people to interview for manufacturing positions at a Mercedes plant in the state, but the barriers they face continue to be too much of an obstacle.
Access to education and training are also a problem. Jeff Brannon, president and CEO of Flowers Hospital, located in Dothan, said there is not enough space in the nursing programs to accommodate the students interested in becoming nurses.
“It is hard work, and the lack of the workforce in that particular field in that program,” he said. “Like I said, we have so many students who want to get into programs who either are not able to or there are not enough slots to get into.”
Brannon said many experienced nurses are aging out of the profession and opting to retire.
Finding faculty to teach nursing students is also an issue..
“You would have to have a faculty and an instructor who would be willing to come in to expand the program,” Brannon said. “The challenge is really getting people back in and focused on, ‘do you want to be a part-time instructor, or do you want to be a full-time instructor?’”
People were on hand to describe the educational programs that were offered along with potential resources available for parents who need childcare, but the gathering was focused on identifying the issues contributing to the low labor force participation rate.
“We are just trying to understand what the real issues are, what the barriers are, and what we can do to address those,” said House Ways and Means Education Committee Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, one of the lawmakers on the Labor Shortage Commission.
Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Pike Road, said he did not expect “two or three silver bullets” to address the issues.
“I think there are a lot of different things that we are going to have to approach, whether it be legislative, whether it be community driven, whatever we can do to help employers, the tools and toolbox, to be able to get started,” he said.
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