Apprenticeships at the forefront of conversation for Mayor Woodfin, Birmingham

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin recently took a trip to Bremen, Germany to discuss apprenticeships. His visit was profiled in The Wall Street Journal.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin recently took a trip to Bremen, Germany to discuss apprenticeships. His visit was profiled in The Wall Street Journal.

Birmingham’s emphasis on building out apprenticeships for its workforce is gaining steam and garnering national attention.

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a trip made by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin to Bremen, Germany, who visited software company abat AG to tour its training facility.

With only 55 percent of its graduates going on to college after high school, the City of Birmingham is banding together with others throughout the region to explore ways to get people into meaningful and well-paying jobs through proven apprenticeship programs.

“Our team is dedicated to building as many ladders to economic opportunity as possible,” Woodfin said. “We know that apprenticeships are an important pathway to opportunity and we are working to expand access to them for the residents of our city.”

Apprentices at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in its Alabama plant.

Apprentices at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in its Alabama plant.

In Germany, finding work without first completing an apprenticeship is rare. The country’s dual education system puts a premium on earning while learning, and while apprenticeships have yet to become as widespread in the United States, it is another method cities like Birmingham can employ to continually increase the number of individuals working in the region.

The conversation about the importance of apprenticeships comes at an opportune time, said Waymond Jackson, senior vice president of public policy at the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA).

“Over the past five years at both the national and state level, legislation has been enacted that makes it more attractive for companies to adopt apprenticeship models,” Jackson said. “Federally, funding opportunities continue to be made available for states that are seeking to develop or expand apprenticeship models. At the state level, a popular tool has been the use of tax credits for companies that employ apprentices.”

Alabama offers a tax credit as a part of the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Apprenticeship Alabama initiative for up to $1,000 income tax credit, not to exceed five apprentices of $5,000.

“For some, the addition of tax credits provides them with the needed incentive to invest in apprenticeship models, and for others, their challenge is knowing that these opportunities exist,” Jackson said.

To help in that effort, the BBA has served as a connector for companies looking to establish apprenticeship programs, Jackson said. Currently, the BBA is working with Central Six AlabamaWorks! and Innovate Birmingham to support the development of two apprenticeship programs – one in manufacturing, the other in information technology (IT).

Central Six AlabamaWorks! was recently one of a handful of workforce consortiums to receive $150,000 in national funding to establish an apprenticeship program, and Innovate Birmingham has been able to transition many of its graduates into on-the-job training roles with local companies.

In this summer’s landmark Building (it) Together report, one of the key workforce recommendations Birmingham received was to look into co-op and alternate training opportunities, including apprenticeships, as a path to provide training to young workers as experienced workers retire. Along with partners like Central Six AlabamaWorks! and Innovate Birmingham, the BBA will serve a critical role in the establishment and ongoing sustainability of apprenticeships in our region, Jackson said.

“This directly aligns with key workforce recommendations made in the recent Building (it) Together report, which clearly states that in order for us to meet the current and growing job demands from industry, our region must establish more non-traditional pathways and hands-on approaches to training,” he said. “Apprenticeships will help us meet that need.” 

Companies like Mercedes-Benz U.S. International implemented apprenticeship programs to help fill its workforce pipeline, and three local companies – Alabama Plate Cutting, Precision Grinding and Sealing Equipment Products Co. Inc (SEPCO) – have taken part in a U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship program for CNC machinists. Other companies like Kamtek and Stewart Machine Co. Inc. also offer apprenticeships.

As part of the Building (it) Together initiative, the BBA has begun highlighting apprenticeship programs around the region for other companies to use as best practices. Here are a few: