In its work to advance workforce and build a solid talent pipeline, it has become obvious to Central Six executive director Antiqua Cleggett that workforce development and economic development are inextricably linked.
“When talking about employers that are looking to come into a city or looking to expand their operations, having their workforce capacity needs met is critical,” Cleggett said. “Knowing the community is trained to the skill requirements of a specific company is critical.”
That is at the core of Central Six’s mission. Central Six serves six central Alabama counties – Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker. Central Six seeks to connect employers with a well-trained base of potential employees.
It is a part of a larger statewide network, AlabamaWorks, that trains, prepares and matches job seekers with employers. Central Six works with clusters of different industries to connect companies to a talent pipeline that Central Six has played a key part in establishing.
CMC Steel is a member of Central Six’s Advanced Manufacturing Industry Cluster and has been highly involved in workforce development within its sector.
“I love working with the Central Six team,” said Nathel DuBose, CMC Steel’s human resources manager. “The council’s efforts are important to my company and the business community as a whole because they are a pipeline to getting new talent. They are helping expose various generations and educators to our industries and they are becoming a mouthpiece for the industrial industry as a whole.”
In its five years of operation, Central Six has had a multitude of success stories connecting roughly 50 employers across varying industries to talent. It has funded over half a million dollars to community colleges to outfit its health care and manufacturing programs, in turn creating a skilled workforce in those industries.
Hundreds of girls in middle school and high school, along with their mothers, have been exposed to the construction industry through Central Six – a career they might have known nothing about otherwise. In fact, at the most recently career fair, nine employers in the construction industry offered 50 attendees jobs, right there at the fair.
Central Six is a stakeholder in a grant that provides electrical or welding training to the homeless population – and every single person that completes the training is offered a job.
“Workforce is key,” said Cleggett. “It is critical because it stimulates the entire economy. When people are working they have a sense of worth and value, and this produces a happier, healthier community. Crime goes down ideally, people are able to feed their families and themselves, and they are able to purchase goods and resources. When citizens are working and happy, they are able to help themselves and their families advance and have full lives. Individuals are able to become self-sustaining and get re-engaged in the community. It has truly changed so many lives.”
Central Six works extensively with K-12, two-year institutions and four-year institutions to help create pipelines to varying industries so individuals can go to work and ease seamlessly into a career path.
If employers are willing to share a bit of their time, Cleggett said, she and her team will help them work through workforce challenges, anything from helping build soft skills into a company’s onboarding process to finding people to fill vacancies in employment.
“We are happy to help host job fairs where we are able to bring people out and try to find qualified, skilled workers,” Cleggett said.
As the lead economic development organization for the Birmingham region, the Birmingham Business Alliance has helped Central Six to thrive. The BBA’s senior vice president of public policy, Waymond Jackson, serves as chairman of the Central Six Development Council’s board of directors.
“Central Six plays a key role as a primary workforce development intermediary for our region,” Jackson said. “The commitment that the state and the Department of Commerce have made to align workforce development efforts across the state come at a crucial time.”
The BBA has played an important role with Central Six, Cleggett said.
“The BBA is constantly connecting us with and engaging us with employers,” she said. “It is very centric to our business. The BBA is always addressing the region’s workforce challenges and workforce needs, and the BBA has opened a lot of doors for employers and Central Six to make a connection.”
At the core of Central Six’s purpose is strengthening workforce development, and, as a result, economic development for the six counties the organization serves, providing a better quality of life for the counties’ citizens. It is work that Cleggett takes immense pride in.
“I genuinely love what I do and I like to see the impact it has on people,” she said. “I have a passion for people and a passion for serving, and this role really allows those to marry – to help people move forward and have a better quality of life.”