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Road to 60 - Credentials and Careers: Innovative Alabama Program Helps Talent Shine

Sova Solutions - Jenny Schanker
Article Date
May 28, 2024

This blog is the third in a four-part series by Sova Solutions, highlighting progress toward the nation’s goal that six of every 10 adults will earn a college degree or other valuable credentials beyond high schooland showcasing what’s possible.

When Lumina Foundation set its national goal in 2009 for 60 percent of American adults to earn high-quality postsecondary credentials, fewer than a third of Alabamians held college degrees. Now, thanks to a unique partnership, the state has a new story of improved careers and lives.

An innovative, coordinated talent development effort is underway across Alabama to help students and workers succeed, and it’s showing solid progress. As of 2022, Alabama’s postsecondary attainment rate has increased more than 15 percentage points to 46.9 percent. 

Alongside slow but steady growth in associate and bachelor’s degrees, the bulk of this increase comes from a sharper focus on workforce certificates and industry certifications as they were added to attainment data. When Gov. Kay Ivey took office in 2018, she and her team set a goal for 500,000 newly credentialed workers statewide. State leaders told Lumina’s research partner Sova that today the state is more than halfway to 500,000 and on track to meet or exceed its goal by counting every resident with a first credential beyond high school.

The capstone of this all-in approach is the Talent Triad, Alabama’s ambitious initiative to leverage technology to connect jobseekers and employers by validating skills. The Talent Triad is a public-private partnership between state agencies and employers, educators and trainers, and nonprofit groups. Nick Moore, director of the governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, described the project this way: “Attainment and labor-force participation have to move in tandem. We have to move away from a focus on the supply side … and meet people where they are in the workforce.”

The tools in the Triad include an online credential registry, an AI-enhanced job description generator, and a college and career exploration portal.

“Everyone will have access to a digital wallet,” Moore said. “In the post-COVID environment, people want short programs focused on employment along with supportive services.”

Making poverty less likely

The new system is focused on skills and competencies leading to immediate employment as well as stacking credentials to degrees and certificates.

“We know that bachelor’s degrees provide good returns, but in Alabama, only 24 out of 100 people get one,” Moore said. “We need to attend to the other 76. We need to create a success sequence that makes poverty less likely.”

The Talent Triad went live as a pilot during the spring of 2023. In an August review in “The Job” newsletter, journalist Paul Fain said that during a demonstration, “the learner record site looked like a souped-up version of LinkedIn. Users can opt in to have their profiles matched with employers and jobs.” The tool will initially be available through Alabama Works!, but the goal is to make it available to all Alabamians at schools and community sites.

Today, the Triad supports 19,816 learners, mostly Adult Education students. The credential registry lists over 9,000 skills-based credentialed learning opportunities. More than 900 skills-based jobs, most full-time, are available for jobseekers to explore.

By finding common ground and partnering efficiently, the Talent Triad leads the way as a statewide collaboration that leverages quality credentials, employment data, and digital learning to improve lives, paving the way for others to follow.

Jenny Schanker, Ed.D., is Senior Director of Learning and Research at the Michigan Community College Association. She has led the center’s work on guided pathways, math pathways, developmental education reform, dual enrollment, and alignment of noncredit and credit career education. She partnered on this project with Lara Couturier, Ph.D., a Principal at Sova, which builds partnerships to drive positive change across higher education. Lara works to ensure equitable learning and career outcomes, particularly through learning mobility for learners of color and students from families with incomes below the poverty line. Both are working with Lumina Foundationan independent foundation that helps all Americans learn beyond high school, on assessing progress toward its Goal 2025. Visit Lumina’s A Stronger Nation website to see detailed attainment rates by age, race and location.