Workforce development impacts not only industries the state is attempting to attract but also existing industries, including one of the state’s largest and oldest, forestry.
Some of Alabama’s top leaders in industry and manufacturing met in Montgomery recently to discuss workforce development in rural Alabama, and forests were in the focus.
“Our workforce development challenges involve showing forest products manufacturing as attractive, interesting and compelling for today’s workers,” said Christian Fischer, president and CEO of Georgia-Pacific, which has invested $1.6 billion in its Alabama operations within the last five years. “It’s not your grandfather’s industry anymore. Our work is becoming more automated, which requires a different combination of problem-solving collaboration and technical skills.”
In 2018, according to a report from the Alabama Department of Commerce, the forestry industry was the largest capital investor in 15 rural Alabama counties, and it was the largest employer throughout much of rural Alabama overall.
“We know the workforce is here,” said Peggy Jaye, public affairs manager for Georgia-Pacific. “We see two key elements for attracting them. One is reaching people early — as young as middle and high school — and showing them opportunities for a career rather than just a job. The second is communicating the specific skills we need today as a modern manufacturer.”
Fischer met with representatives from the Alabama Forestry Association, the Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama Department of Education and the Alabama Community College System in a roundtable format before speaking with the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery.
“There are education programs in the state that are working and turning out people who are ready for a number of roles at our facilities in Alabama,” Fischer said. “We need more of these mutually beneficial opportunities. By working with partners like AIDT and the Alabama Community College System, we can show the workforce of tomorrow why it’s important and impactful to learn these skills today.”