Report: Family-friendly workplace policies create a stronger economic future for Birmingham
Last Mother’s Day, Nicole and her 4-month-old son were living in a shelter for victims of domestic violence. This Mother’s Day, Nicole is studying Manufacturing Systems Technology at Jefferson State Community College. Currently completing her second semester of an Associate’s Degree, she is well on her way to filling a job in an industry where Alabama desperately needs skilled workers.
"I thought I was done in life, but this scholarship changed everything. I can dream again and this has given me hope for a brighter future," Nicole said. This 35-year-old mother is among more than 20 women thriving in post-secondary manufacturing programs supported by The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. For the past five years, The Women’s Fund has invested in two-generation strategies combining targeted post-secondary training for mothers, quality child care for their children, and wraparound supports for families.
These student-parents include women from rural towns such as Oneonta and Moody, as well as the cities of Jefferson County. Several are raising two to three children, or grandchildren. Most work part time to support their children, then find time for demanding classes and homework at night.
Not one mother enrolled in manufacturing training has given up and dropped out. Not one. That’s because mothers know their children’s very futures depend on them.
Alabama’s community college and workforce systems are becoming increasingly creative in funding scholarships for manufacturing and tech workers. Free training classes abound, in areas such as Certified Production Technician or at AIDT, Alabama’s primary workforce training program. But without accessible training, dependable transportion, and evening childcare, many mothers striving to support their children are locked out of Alabama’s economy. And employers are cut off from a valuable source of committed and dependable labor.
According to Clearing the Path, published annually by The Women’s Fund, a growing number of large local employers are offering higher starting wages and family-friendly benefits such as paid parental leave, as they recognize the need for a sustainable workforce. Our state’s employers are moving in the right direction.
Right now, Alabama’s workforce development system has an unprecedented opportunity to connect women and mothers with booming industries that are hungry for workers. We know there is room for growth because Alabama ranks 50th in workforce participation rate for women – 51 percent, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Neighbors Georgia and Tennessee climb past us at 55 percent.
To close this gap requires strategic investments in child care, job training, and wraparound supports so that mothers can train for higher-skill, in-demand jobs while their children are safe, housed and fed. Now is the time to invest our philanthropic power to harness and expand economic opportunities for all mothers.
The Women’s Fund’s strategic supports have cleared the path for young mothers to enter the workforce in healthcare support occupations, Alabama’s highest growth sector from 2008-2018.
Consider these statistics:
83 percent of mothers graduated with a career-ready certificate; that’s 161 women ready for jobs as pharmacy technicians, vision assistants, dental assistants, or medical billing and coding specialists.76 percent of graduates gained a job in their field or continued their education when supported by a career coach to provide soft skills training, guidance, and emergency supports.81 percent of graduates were employed in their field when provided with mentoring.
Based on the 100 percent retention rate for manufacturing students, such as Nicole, we know our focus on women in manufacturing could provide Alabama’s manufacturers with needed women workers, as well.
We attended a recent job fair at the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources where 517 job-seekers – the vast majority of whom were women — lined up early in the rain with hopes for a brighter future. We surveyed these women about their job interests and challenges they face. More than 95 percent listed areas such child care, transportation, and tuition as barriers to better employment – to filling jobs where their labor is needed in our economy.
On this Mother’s Day, so many mothers in our state – some of whom have fled domestic violence or work 2-3 jobs to support their families – don’t want flowers or candy. They don’t expect a day off from taking care of their children. That’s not going to happen.
This piece originally appeared in in the Birmingham News and on AL.com.