FOLEY – The South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce held a “Report Card” Luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 7, where it gave updates on its five-year Gateway Initiative. The Gateway Initiative, launched …
FOLEY – The South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce held a “Report Card” Luncheon on Wednesday, Nov. 7, where it gave updates on its five-year Gateway Initiative. The Gateway Initiative, launched early 2018, is the brainchild of CEO and President of the Chamber Donna Watts, and is meant to help build and better the community as a whole. There are three separate tiers that make up the initiatives, the first being Talent Development and Recruitment. This initiative strives to end workforce shortage by bringing in new employees along with training those employees and the ones who are already here.
Ed Bushaw heads the initiative as director, and during the luncheon he discussed what has been accomplished within the initiative and where they’re going next.
“One of the things that we’re really focusing on is students in the secondary schools that are pursuing careers, but they’re not necessarily looking at a four-year degree option,” Bushaw said. “The idea is to promote everything that we have in Baldwin County, and a lot of the time we have best kept secrets. One of the things people don’t always realize is how dual-enrollment works with the community college, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for our career tech students where they can pursue a career path, receive college credits at the same time, and it’s basically free of charge.”
Bushaw stated the average college tuition during the 1980s was $2,100. During 2017, tuition-only averaged $96,000 plus, and after adding books, board, and spending money, the total at times came to $150,000.
“How nice would it be to be able to come out with a credential and not have any student debt?” Bushaw said.
Right alongside dual-enrollment, Bushaw has been hard at work bringing new apprenticeships to our area. Apprenticeships allow students and adults alike to work as an apprentice in a new field. This allows people without experience to land jobs that otherwise would be unattainable.
“We’ve learned that you can set up apprenticeships in just about any career in the United States,” Bushaw said. “Businesses could take students or adults who are already in their employee, put them through a registered apprenticeship program, get a tax incentive for doing so, have them get that credential at the end, and make nearly as much money with no debt whatsoever.”
Currently, there are only five approved apprenticeships in the state of Alabama, but Bushaw is looking to change that after learning none of the apprenticeships feature tourism or hospitality in any form. After speaking with Apprenticeship Alabama, he learned all it takes to create an apprenticeship is a business in a career field that is interested in taking on an apprenticeship, a demand from people in the community who would be interested in working through an apprenticeship, and approval by Apprenticeship Alabama. So far, Bushaw has already had approximately ten businesses asking to get involved with a registered apprenticeship.
“So again, the idea is two-fold,” said Bushaw. “You can take people who are already employed and put them into an apprenticeship program, you can receive tax credits for doing that, or you can bring people in from the outside, for instance a disabled person, or a veteran, and you can get $9,600 a year as a tax credit for that apprenticeship.”
There are 3,100 registered apprenticeships in the United States, but any business can begin one if interested.
If apprenticeships were brought to the area, they could go right alongside the dual-enrollment to help students graduate with careers and experience. Bushaw stated his initiative has been working closely with local businesses to create a plan for what types of employees they’re seeking. They will then work with local 9th graders to set them on career paths early. Another idea to help students and businesses is to begin utilizing VR training. The idea would encompass students or employees using VR headsets to put themselves in a working situation. This could train anything from bartenders to customer service, whereas drinks could be poured at no expense and lessons on how to deliver great customer service could be applied virtually. With the apprenticeships, VR training, and dual-enrollment, students have a great chance of getting a good career, without any debt.
“Parents don’t always know that their child could start a student apprenticeship in the 10th grade,” said Watts. “So they work three years, leave the school and go to a job, and also get dual-enrollment with our Coastal Community College, come out of high school with a guaranteed job, with a high school diploma, with a two-year college diploma, all of the certificates that they’ll pick up along the way going through this apprenticeship program, and have zero student debt.”
Along with strengthening at-home employees, the Chamber is also looking to bring in outside recruitment. Bushaw has communicated with universities in Michigan and Tennessee, and come February 2019 he along with others will be making trips to visit the campuses to recruit students to spend their summers working in our area in the hopes that they’ll relocate after discovering the opportunities.
Bushaw is also working towards job opportunities for disabled, mature workers, veterans, and he’s working with the Department of Corrections to employee from job release.
“One of the things that we did right away was decide that we needed to get all of the career and technical education faculty members together with local business leaders,” said Bushaw. “We had a meeting at the Civic Center and the business leaders talked to the teachers about what skill sets they require from graduates. The feedback we received from the teachers was wonderful. Finally there was a conduit between education and business.”
For more information on the South Baldwin Chamber and the Gateway Initiative, check out their website at www.southbaldwinchamber.com.