Workforce development working lunch

Kristen O’Keefe, industry cluster coordinator with Central Six AlabamaWorks, outlines benefits available to employers.

Kristen O’Keefe, industry cluster coordinator with Central Six AlabamaWorks, outlines benefits available to employers.

The Blount County Economic Development Council hosted an event last Friday designed as a workforce development working lunch. Employers from around the county were in attendance along with administrators from the Oneonta school system and the county’s Career Technical Center. The meeting took place at the Wallace State Oneonta campus and its director, Wesley Rakestraw, was also present.

Lisa Baker, project manager for the Council, said she and executive director Don Mitchell want to determine the needs of existing industries and help them gain access to available resources. Mitchell said they are planning a series of events to inform local companies and schools of available resources.

One agency that can be a conduit to resources is Central Six AlabamaWorks, a non-profit that serves region 4 of the Regional Workforce Councils. The region consists of Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker counties. Its mission is to “create a 21st century workforce that is proactive, responsive, and results driven; supports the region’s diverse population and employers; and, provide quality job opportunities in support of a vibrant regional economy.”

Central Six’s executive director Antiqua Cleggett and industry cluster coordinator Kristen O’Keefe made a presentation to the gathering outlining some of the benefits employers might not know are available to them. These include opportunities for the employer to receive federally funded salary reimbursements for having on-the-job or incumbent worker training programs. They pointed out there are tax credits available for companies that hire people from “target groups,” such as veterans. They said there is a partnership between the State of Alabama, it’s community colleges, and AIDT (Alabama’s workforce training agency) to provide training for the robotics industry.

Cleggett said Central Six’s primary customer is industry. They work to align resources for their customers, advocate for policy and systems to support regional needs, and encourage engagement in K-12 schools in order for students to learn more about local career opportunities. They do the latter by working with school career coaches to educate them on the needs of industry. They also host Worlds of Work events where they bring students from grades eight through 12 to a workplace, like a healthcare facility or a manufacturing plant. Cleggett said, “The students get to see, touch, feel, and do.”

She also talked about the Ready to Work Graduates program, which is a six-week program for high school seniors that focuses on the soft skills like effective communication, teamwork, courtesy, responsibility, integrity, and other necessary abilities that can help students be successful.

O’Keefe spoke about Apprenticeship Alabama, another program where an employer can receive a tax credit if they participate. Besides this benefit, she said employers have found that the program reduces employee turnover, increases production, and produces a highly trained staff.

Terry Sullivan, owner of AT Mechanical, was at the luncheon. His company is located in Remlap and specializes in commercial HVAC, plumbing, and fabrication work. He, along with others, talked about how difficult it is to find and hire qualified individuals. Sullivan expressed interest in much of what he learned in the presentation. “I’m glad I came.”

To learn more about how the Economic Development Council can assist your company, contact Mitchell or Baker at 625-3305 or through their website

To learn more about Central Six AlabamaWorks, go to or contact Cleggett at 719-3239.