Nothing elevates a person like a good job. A good job with a good wage elevates out of poverty. A good job well done gives self-esteem, self-worth, and a reason to get up every morning. A good job makes it possible to support a family. A good job makes the American dream of owning a home possible and prepares the way for the golden years.
People with good jobs aren’t likely to become criminals, become dependent on welfare, or be homeless. They are more likely to be good members of the community, good spouses, and good parents. They’re more likely to support local schools and other organizations.
Having good jobs available benefits both individuals and communities in every area--Public Safety, Growth and Development, Education, and Community Engagement. But, just having those jobs without having people with the skills to fill them benefits no one.
Education is the key to filling the jobs we have now, and the jobs I’ll bring to Tuscaloosa. We do a good job in preparing our students for college, but we don’t do as well preparing our high school students for entering the skilled trades--and I want to change that!
A growing, vibrant, healthy community needs people working at all levels, from ditch diggers to rocket scientists. As part of my plan to support our schools and help them become a Top 5 school system, I’ll work with our schools to ensure they do an equally good job of training students for either career path.
There has been a national shortage of skilled tradespeople--plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, machinists, carpenters, bricklayers, and many others--for years. These “builders, makers, and fixers” have no trouble finding high-paying jobs, and in many cases do better financially than their college-trained peers. We can begin to address these needs in the skilled trades just by making students aware of these facts, beginning as early as the freshman year of high school. Then, as we dispel the stigma around these trades-based jobs, we have to have training programs available for those students who don’t see themselves going to college, but who want to do well nonetheless.
Some businesses have stepped up and opened their own training programs to give people the skills those businesses need, but this hasn’t been enough to meet the need we have right now or the need we’ll have in the future. The school system has also stepped up and began to offer some of these great programs, but we have to continue to enhance and expand them! As Mayor, I want to lead this charge.
“We need to work with our schools to make sure both our college-bound and our trades-bound students have the skills they need to succeed in their chosen career path when they leave high school.”--Martin Houston
Because of the COVID pandemic, we have students who have recently graduated or will soon graduate high school without the benefit of a full educational experience. Our schools and teachers have literally moved mountains to cope with the pandemic’s effects, but despite their best efforts, we have too many students who have been deprived of a full educational experience. Plans are being made to address this, and I fully support them, but they may not be enough.
We also have many whose jobs have been lost to the pandemic, and may not return. For those that can find jobs, they may only be part-time or offer much lower wages and benefits than they had been receiving. Also, even during a pandemic, military personnel continue to return to civilian life. These new Veterans face even more challenges than their cohorts have before.
Taken together, our students, unemployed, underemployed, and Veterans represent a tremendous pool of resources we can use as we reopen—but only if they have the skills to do the new jobs that will be available. Without those skills, all of these people represent a crisis that we can not allow to develop.
Our choice is clear—we either make it possible for these people to be trained to do the work Tuscaloosa needs doing, and use them to build our new, great city. Or, we do nothing and let them drag our city down into hopelessness, poverty, crime, blight, and decay.
I choose to look at our students, our un- and underemployed, and our Veterans as valuable, untapped sources of energy and creativity, needing only a small initial effort to make them dynamic engines of growth that will benefit all of Tuscaloosa. That is why I will launch Operation Workforce as one of my first acts as Mayor.
I will work with our local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, the Superintendent, Board and Administrators of the Tuscaloosa City Schools, local and national non-profits, existing training programs, state and federal agencies, and our local Universities to establish Workforce Academies to train our students, under- and unemployed, and Veterans to enter the workforce as tradespeople and crafters. These Workforce Academies will be a cornerstone of my BEST plan to make Tuscaloosa the great city we deserve!
Our Workforce Academies will:
Be public-private-education partnerships
Target the immediate needs identified by local businesses first, then
Train students to meet both general and anticipated trades needs to come
Prepare the participants for either immediately taking a job or entering further training in a skilled trade
Not be limited to single-category small groups (last year’s HS seniors, recently unemployed, Veterans) but be open to as many as can be accommodated
Initially target current High School Students, recently finished High School Students ages 18-23, and Veterans
Accept transitioning military personnel, as well as those who are transitioning in other ways, including changing careers
Work closely with law enforcement and the courts to enroll misdemeanor/first-time, non-violent offenders, to divert these (mostly youthful) offenders into positive, productive life paths
I realize that we will not be able to train every single person who wants or needs training immediately. Just as it will take us years to fully recover from the pandemic, it will take years to create the Workforce Academies we must have.
Everyone in our community has something they can contribute if they have the support, the training, and the motivation to do so. We can do better in providing for our people in all of these areas, and we will do better under my leadership.
As Mayor, I’ll bring together our businesses, educators, city leaders, law enforcement, community, and other stakeholders to work to prepare our students and citizens for better lives, no matter what route they want to take to get those better lives.