West AlabamaWorks! Recognized for creating career pathways

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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On March 26, Carnegie Corporation of New York announced West AlabamaWorks! as one of 10 winners of a new initiative to support outstanding local partnerships that educate youth, bolster the workforce, and demonstrate the power of working together.

The organization serves youths in Marengo, Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Lamar, Pickens, Greene, Hale, Sumter and Bibb counties.

West AlabamaWorks! trains and matches highly skilled job seekers with employers in nine primarily rural counties in West Alabama. Created through a partnership between the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the Region 3 Workforce Development Council in 2014, the coalition has grown to include more than 250 representatives from business and industry, K-12 school districts, higher education institutions, nonprofits, service providers, and state and local government. Opportunities for occupational skills training include manufacturing, construction, automotive, and professional services.

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“Being selected for Profiles in Collective Leadership is a testament to our ongoing commitment to the students, educators, and businesses in our community. The funding will allow West AlabamaWorks! to continue connecting the education system to our workforce through programs like the Educator Workforce Academy and K-12 Career Pathways. It is an honor to receive national recognition for our efforts in WestAlabama,” said Donny Jones, chief workforce officer at the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and executive director of West AlabamaWorks!.

The organization partners to provide opportunities for students beginning in pre-K through high school graduation. In addition, West AlabamaWorks! enhances regional employment more broadly through supporting job seekers and employers.

Profiles in Collective Leadership provides $200,000 grants for nonpartisan collaborations that serve as education and economic bridges in a range of communities across the country. The philanthropic initiative draws on the strengths of local government, education, nonprofit, business, and health care professionals to create career opportunities for young people and encourage civic participation. The 10 recognized partnerships in eight states will act as exemplars, sharing what they have learned with each other and with the public.

By funding these collaborations in urban, suburban, and rural areas, the corporation seeks to reduce political polarization and support civic engagement, community cohesion, and trust in public institutions. The corporation aims to help young people from all backgrounds move from the classroom to meaningful careers, spurring the socioeconomic mobility necessary to create a thriving economy and sustain a healthy democracy.

The corporation, in partnership with the education nonprofit Transcend, identified candidates through a competitive national process. The winners were selected by a panel of jurors composed of a broad range of leaders in business, higher education, and philanthropy.

Through its many initiatives, West AlabamaWorks! has matched thousands of job seekers with employers. For example, its Modern Manufacturing Center of Excellence, which facilitates internships, apprenticeships, and direct hires, has served nearly 1,400 students since 2021, preparing them for entry-level careers with manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota. Building Hope AL, which matches justice-involved individuals with jobs, has more than 1,735 registered individuals and 42 participating companies.

In addition to the $200,000 grant, winners will receive opportunities to document and share their story nationally and participate in a community of practice committed to highlighting and replicating these approaches and solutions.

“West AlabamaWorks! is connecting students to industries in a way that is modeled statewide. Students have firsthand experience with companies, like Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, while in high school and can continue to build those relationships once they graduate,” said Rolf Wrona, vice president of human resources at Mercedes-Benz U.S. International and chairman of the board of West AlabamaWorks! “The dedication of West AlabamaWorks! to students, businesses, and the community is making a lasting impact on the region’s workforce development.”

“We launched Profiles based on our belief that communities across the country are working to create opportunities for economic and social mobility as well as civic engagement irrespective of red, blue, or purple politics — and we want to listen and learn from them,” said LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, vice president of the corporation’s national program and program director of education. “The 10 winners are leading examples of this type of collaborative work on the local level, and our hope is that by spotlighting and funding their efforts, we can ultimately influence the field to work in new and collective ways that also mitigate the impact of polarization.”

Learn more about the Profiles in Collective Leadership initiative at carnegie.org/CollectiveLeadership