Survey on Workforce Summit, Sept. 9 - 10
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Executive Summary Presentations Facilitated Table Discussions Data Survey Data Participants

Workforce Summit Executive Summary

Purpose of Summit

On September 9 and 10, 2015, public and private sector leaders from Cullman, DeKalb, Jackson, Limestone, Madison, Marshall and Morgan counties came together to develop strategies to ensure that North Alabama economic growth has a sustainable talent pipeline.

The Huntsville metro has experienced astounding growth and prosperity over the past 15 years. Employment has grown by 17%, representing more than 31,000 new jobs. The gross domestic product has increased by 55% or $7.5 billion, more than twice the rate of the State or the country as a whole. Wages and salaries have increased 25%, putting Huntsville at #17 in the nation and #4 in the South. Highlights of this growth include the location and five subsequent expansions of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing engine facility, the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure that brought nearly 5,000 jobs to Redstone Arsenal, the Remington announcement in 2014 and most recently, the selection of Huntsville, Limestone County as the site for the new Polaris manufacturing center.

While population growth has been sufficient to support these announcements and is on track to top 500,000 by 2022, the area is already seeing tightness in the labor market in key categories such as welding, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, and software development. A workforce analysis conducted by Deloitte in 2014 demonstrated that the Huntsville metro could support 10,000 to 12,000 new jobs in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing sectors through 2024; however, Huntsville has added 9,000 jobs in the past three years alone.

To support this growth and ensure North Alabama’s continued success as a destination region for jobs and quality of life, leaders must first anticipate and identify any misalignment between the skills and education attainment of the area’s labor force and the requirements of current and future employers, and then take deliberate steps to ensure that the talent and employment growth are in synch.

The Huntsville metro labor shed extends more than 50 miles around Madison County, and the State’s workforce resources are managed through councils that include seven counties in Northeast Alabama; therefore, the action taken must be regional. This effort should be led by business and industry - the customers of workforce development efforts - in partnership with all levels of education and government. To this end, the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County and The Schools Foundation of Madison County invited numerous public and private sector leaders to participate in a two-day Summit to identify the workforce trends and challenges in North Alabama and generate the strategies that will ensure continued growth and prosperity.


  • Identify and discuss the workforce trends and challenges in North Alabama
  • Discuss the strategies that will ensure continued growth and prosperity

Observations and Outcomes

During the event, the group heard presentations regarding the workforce trends in the United States, workforce and academic trends in Alabama and the Tennessee Valley, and the concept of a Talent Management pipeline. After listening to the presentations about workforce challenges and opportunities, Facilitated Table Discussions occurred on day two of the Summit. Attendees were asked to process all of the information they had received over the course of the Summit and answer a series of questions. The goal of the Facilitated Table Discussions was to gather feedback from the various attendees to be utilized in the creation of a Workforce Development Plan.

The following questions were presented to the groups:

  • Question 1: What are our industry/occupation focus areas?
  • Question 2: What organizations need to be involved? Who should take the lead?
  • Question 3: How do we measure success? How do we incentivize success?
  • Question 4: How should this effort be funded?
  • Bonus Question – What have we not covered?

Detailed information from the Facilitated Table Discussions can be found here.

A survey was conducted at the conclusion of the Summit with questions that were developed from solutions obtained during the Facilitated Table Discussions. The survey was designed to gain consensus among the attendees in regard to which solutions rank the highest. 97 survey responses were recorded and utilized in this report.

The group identified and ranked the industry/focus areas that need attention by the Tennessee Valley region in order to develop a future workforce to effectively meet the requirements of the future. The following focus areas were identified (by Rank Average):

  1. STEM (2.8)
  2. Cybersecurity (4.1)
  3. Skilled Labor (welders, machinists, constructions, HVAC, etc.) (5.3)
  4. Computer Application and Software Development and Healthcare (6.7)

The separation between average ranking demonstrates a significant agreement across the stakeholders that STEM should be the most significant area of focus for the future workforce.

The group also identified the key stakeholders that should be involved in developing the strategic plans and actions to develop this workforce. The key stakeholders identified (by Rank Average) were:

  1. K-12 (4.2)
  2. Chamber of Commerce (4.3)
  3. 2 and 4 Year Colleges (4.4)
  4. Business Owners and Industry Leaders (4.7)
  5. Economic Development Directors (5.6)
  6. Regional Workforce Council (5.7)

The high average ranking values for the top responses indicate a varied perspective on stakeholders that should be involved. Responses included parents and students, elected officials, professional societies, and Redstone Arsenal. This diverse set of responses indicates that the group felt that a majority of the local and regional community should be involved in the planning and actions necessary for developing a strong workforce. The rankings indicate that the stakeholders understood a key message of the symposium: success will be obtained through a collaboration of education, community, and industry. This is a common theme throughout the Workforce Summit presentation, Facilitated Table Discussions, and the survey.

When asked to identify who should lead the strategic planning and action development, the group responded with a slightly different order. However, the tight grouping of the top four responses indicate strong agreement on who should lead the effort (by Ranked Average):

  1. Regional Workforce Council (2.3) and Business Owners & Industry Leaders (2.3)
  2. Chamber of Commerce (2.5)
  3. K-12 (3.0)

More stakeholders responded by ranking the Chamber as the first choice for leading the effort; however, the lower average ranking was a result of more stakeholders also ranking the Chamber as the fourth selection (see Survey Data Figure 4-12). This indicates a significant divergence in perspectives of the Chamber’s role within the stakeholders. Clearly defining roles and communicating is recommended to align stakeholders and effectively leveraging capabilities.

The group was also asked to identify how success should be measured. The responses varied from suggesting actual metrics to providing methods for measuring success. The analysis focused on the recommended metrics. The top three responses were (by Ranked Average):

  1. Job Placement (4.0)
  2. Unemployment Rates (5.2)
  3. Education Completion Rates (5.3)

Additionally, Test Scores and Skill Gaps ranked high, but with a significant lower average ranking than the top three responses. Overall, the average ranking of all responses were relatively high suggesting a lack of consensus on the top ways to measure success. Based on this analysis, next steps should include dedicated assessment of success metrics and methods of tracking and analyzing.

When asked to identify and rank the best method for funding the workforce development effort, the group provided two top answers – Industry Investments and Taxes. The separation between these two responses was 2.5 indicating a strong agreement that Industry Investment should have a significant role in funding the effort. Additional responses were significantly lower in average rank and included:

  • Industry Investments (1.8)
  • Taxes (4.3)
  • Grants (5.1)
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (5.4)
  • Tax Credits (5.5)
  • Scholarships (5.7)

Detailed information from the survey can be found here.

Additionally, the group listened to presentations from programs with demonstrated success in improving the training and education of the Tennessee Valley workforce. Each team presented an overview and value of the program in preparing a skilled workforce. From the presentations, the following common best practices and benefits were identified across the programs:

Best Practices

  • Engaged local community
    • Guest speakers presented specific information regarding careers and relevant topics from industry’s perspective
    • Programs guided by the community
    • One-on-One mentoring/guidance provided to the students
      • Educational and career options
      • Monitor skill development
  • Significant industry support and involvement
    • Industry defined the classes that best meet their needs
    • Job shadowing provided to experience true day-to-day realities of a chosen profession outside the classroom and away from peers
    • Industry tours provided direct exposure to professions and industry opportunities
    • Connected students with industry professionals
  • Strong student connection and recognition
    • Held students accountable with attendance requirements and academic expectations
    • Leveraged students to inspire younger students to pursue STEM careers
    • Students were elevated as individuals within their schools and recognized for achievements
  • Flexibility
    • In the education, allowed students to choose what they were interested in as long as it fit within the curriculum
    • In the curriculum, allowed focus on meeting industry needs


  • Tangible Relevance
    • Students see the relevance of their efforts to the real world and industry recognizes the relevance of the education and training
    • Students develop skills needed for the workforce
    • Students encouraged to attempt different skills to find the best fit for them
    • Interaction with industry professionals enhancing job relevance and public speaking skills
  • Informed Decisions and Goals
    • Improved understanding of careers available in a field leading to educated and informed career decisions
    • Realistic goals and achievable plans
    • Students realize opportunities beyond a 4-year degree
  • Increased Visibility and Value
    • Support and encouragement as students take the steps for college and career readiness
    • Number of students interested in STEM careers has increased
    • Self-efficacy higher in STEM
  • Improved Alignment to Industry Needs
    • Providing degrees and certifications in advanced manufacturing with options, stackable certifications, and industry certifications
    • Direct work experience while learning company culture
    • Building of comradery and teamwork with other students and industry professionals
  • Increased Opportunities and Addressing Student Debt
    • Students earning money to pay for education reducing student debt
    • Employment after graduation is higher with skill sets developed during program

Next Steps

During the wrap up of the event, the Chamber committed to using the data from the Summit and this report to continue efforts to develop a strong Workforce Program that will:

  • Align a skilled workforce to meet industry needs
  • Educate and train a skilled workforce pipeline to effectively support the region’s future needs
  • Prepare students with knowledge of career opportunities and realistic paths to attain these opportunities
  • Continue to support and advocate for rigorous academic standards and assessments

The data gathered will provide a strong foundation to guide the Chamber in the engagement of stakeholders, development of strategies, and the Chamber will continue to leverage these stakeholders for continued input and support in the planning and execution of this Workforce Program.