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Training key during economic changes

By By Kerry Whipple Bean
Helping displaced workers understand the changes coming in southwest Alabama — and getting them trained for those new opportunities — is among the challenges ahead for those involved in workforce development, officials said at a Tuesday meeting.
Business, school and economic development leaders met at Jefferson Davis Community College to hear an update on the work of the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council — and to discuss ideas to move the council forward.
Regional coordinator Al Etheridge said the council’s mission is to provide a workforce system that meets employers’ demands.
Etheridge said the workforce development council hopes to target dislocated workers and underskilled workers — such as high school dropouts — to get them the skills needed to succeed, even in a difficult economy.
Resources include community colleges and career centers, participants in Tuesday’s meeting said.
To continue to create opportunities for displaced workers, the region needs more diversified industry, said Wiley Blankenship, president of Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority.
Some workers may need to learn that while they may not get a job they have had for many years, there will be new opportunities for them in the future.
The council has also been reaching out to students in grades K-12 in recent months, Etheridge said.
The workforce development council hopes to impart to students that they don’t have to get a four-year degree to get a good-paying job — but they do have to have job skills, Etheridge said. Volunteers for the council have been given presentations to more than 14,000 students in an eight-county area over the past 18 months, giving them information about the choices that are available to them.
But schools — which provide many of the job-related skills students need — cannot do it alone, Etheridge said.