By Faye Gaston
Workforce and economic development professionals in Bullock County took part in a discussion about Bullock County. Carla Elston, Bullock County Extension System Co-Ordinator, was host for a meeting via zoom on February 10, 2021. The Moderator was Nancy Beggs, Director for Rural Workforce Development with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development.
She has led 38 meetings in other counties about the workforce opportunities and challenges in rural Alabama. The information will be presented for informed policy and legislative action at the state level. These meetings of "community conversations" would help Alabama's quest to add 500,000 qualified workers by 2025.
Providing information about Bullock County were: David Padgett, Economic Developer for Bullock County; Dr. Marvin Lowe, Director of Career and Technical Education; Tracy Larkins, Director of Bullock County Department of Human Resources; and Gene Nelson, veteran, retired school principal, and pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Union Springs.
Concerns discussed were affordable housing, daycare for children of working mothers, workforce skills, available jobs, transportation, computer skills and equipment for students in zoom classes, the need for advanced school programs, and the mental health of students missing social interaction with other students.
Much discussion took place regarding jobs of the future for high school students. This included managing school drop-out prevention and absentees from daily classes. The percentage of students graduating from high school in Bullock County has increased, but there is concern for job opportunities for those who do not graduate.
Teachers are retiring due to their COVID-19 teaching experience, and future teachers are needed to "fill their shoes." Many adult students leave their rural hometowns and do not come back for a long time, if ever. Solving problems for the workforce would help keep them "home."
The four Bullock County individuals in this "community conversation" work hard in their chosen professions to address the concerns that were discussed. One example is Dr. Marin Lowe's ad in every issue of the Union Springs Herald newspaper listing updates in "Workforce Development and Job Openings."