ORANGE BEACH - The Gateway Initiative team held an investor breakfast at The Port at The Wharf on Tuesday, Dec. 14 to discuss the strides being made in local workforce development. The initiative, a collaboration between the South Baldwin Chamber and the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber, is a 5-year capital project designed to help the community’s workforce, education and local businesses, and to forge strong bonds and partnerships between other chambers and municipalities. Before heading into 2022, the Gateway team took time to discuss what has been accomplished in 2021.
Workforce Development Training
“What we try to do each and every year is our Gateway Training Academy,” said Ed Bushaw, vice president of workforce development. “The last time that we did this report we were at about 200% of the number that we put out to train, but COVID made things a little more difficult this year and the in-person meetings couldn’t happen.”
Despite the difficulties, 83 people were trained through the Gateway Initiative’s partnership with the Auburn Technical Assistance Center (ATAC).
“We don’t do all the training ourselves; we go to a lot of our partners to get it done, and why not go to a business school that’s very strong in that regard?” Bushaw said.
Another form of training the Gateway team has brought to the area is virtual reality. For a few years, the team has worked with TRANSFRVR, based out of New York, to provide virtual reality training in manufacturing and hospitality to the community.
“When we received a grant from the South Alabama Community Foundation, our goal was to go to Elberta High, Foley High, Orange Beach High and Gulf Shores High and basically put a soft skills program together in VR,” Bushaw said. “Then COVID hit, and we weren’t actually able to bring the headsets to the individuals, so what we did is we morphed again and went to the South Baldwin Literacy Council.”
Through a partnership with the literacy council, individuals who obtain their GEDs are able to use the headsets and virtually try a number of fields that are available in Baldwin County. Bushaw said the team will continue to work with the grant and TRANSFRVR to provide workforce training.
To date, there have been a total of 134 apprenticeships facilitated by the Gateway team, and a total of 43 businesses have signed up to host apprenticeships.
“I remember when our goal was to have 10 apprentices,” Bushaw said. “To get to the point where there are 134, it really shows that there’s a major movement in industry for work to learn rather than learn to work, and that’s something that we really value.”
Salary and benefit survey
Each year, the Gateway Initiative does a salary and benefit survey. The upcoming survey will include tipped employees as well.
“In 2018, Gateway wasn’t known very well yet, and it was difficult for us to get the sample size that we need,” said Bushaw. “Antitrust laws basically say that if you can’t get five businesses reporting on a position, then we can’t report on that, so we want to expand this year.”
He said the team will be looking at retail, hospitality, tourism and attractions. Results of the survey should be announced prior to Spring Break 2022.
South Baldwin Workforce Training Campus
Recently, it was announced that a local task force is lobbying towards its dream of bringing the South Baldwin Workforce Training Campus to life. If constructed, the campus would possess approximately 1,000 transient housing units to be occupied by Coastal Alabama Community College students, sports tourism, J1 visa holders, hospitality students, and seasonal workers. According to the task force, this would add roughly 2,000 peak-season employees to the local workforce.
To help secure funding for the development, the Gateway team has prepared sample letters of support that can be sent to county and state representatives and senators. The letter and legislators’ email addresses can be found on the Gateway website.
“It’s really, really important that they hear from businesses and individuals directly, not just from us,” said Tyler Morgan, director of career and business development. “We also submitted a four-page proposal to the state. We’re really excited and we’re going to push forward. There’s bumps in the road no matter where you go, but we know that once they hear from you all and once they start their session on Jan. 11, that that’s going to make a world of difference and we ask for your support on that.”
To learn more about the Gateway Initiative, visit gatewayinitiative.com and follow them on Facebook @TheGatewayInitiative.