Skilled to Work: New director of Alabama Office of Apprenticeship lays out goals for office

Josh Laney highlighted the need for more youth apprenticeships as one of the main goals his office will address.

Posted: Oct 10, 2019 6:57 PM
Updated: May 4, 2021 10:56 AM

As the new Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA) starts to educate citizens about its goals and the opportunities that come with registered apprenticeships, it’s new director, Josh Laney, said they are working to attract more young people into youth apprenticeships.

“If we keep waiting until students have graduated high school, waited till they’re floundering in the world, trying to figure out what they’re going to do, then we’re just missing the boat,” said Laney.

Statistics on Registered Apprenticeships in Alabama*

Current occupations:

  • Advanced Manufacturing - 95
    • Architecture & Engineering - 6
    • Installation, Maintenance, Repair - 43
    • Production - 46
  • Construction/Carpentry - 84
  • Management - 3
    • Financial - 1
    • Lodging - 1
    • Restaurant - 1
  • Office & Administrative Support - 2
  • Culinary Arts - 1
  • Distribution/Transportation/Logistics - 1
  • Education - 1
  • Healthcare - 1

*statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor

The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship was created when SB295 was signed into law earlier this year. The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship was created when SB295 was signed into law earlier this year.

Laney got his professional start in education. He spent more than 14 years with Phenix City Schools before moving on to serve as the senior director for workforce development for the Alabama Department of Education.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to do something new and different and, I think, very relevant in Alabama and in education,” said Laney.

He was announced as the new AOA director by Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and director of AIDT, back in August.

His appointment was the first major development in establishing the AOA, which was created when SB295 passed earlier this year. Senator Arthur Orr sponsored that bill.

“[T]he one thing that I've learned in my experience with career technical education and all through my education experience is that if you can get the student connected to that learning that matters to them, it takes on a whole new dynamic,” said Laney.

One the goals of the AOA is to increase the number of youth apprenticeships over the next few years. SB295 included a $500 tax credit for employers who take on a youth apprentice, or someone who is younger than 18-years-old.

“[N]o one is doing apprenticeships because they need the extra $500 tax credit, it’s about a signal. It's an affirmative signal from the governor’s office and the legislature to say, not only is it ok to do youth apprenticeships, we encourage it,” said Laney.

Governor Kay Ivey set out a goal of having 500,000 skilled workers in the state by 2025. Laney said not only is it important to get more young people into registered apprenticeships, but also to diversify the workforce, both by trade and by demographic.

“We know that a majority of people who are participating in apprenticeships right now is mostly in manufacturing and construction. That's where the majority of them are,” said Laney. “And we know that most of those participants are white males. We know that. And so we’re looking to make sure that we’re expanding that opportunity to all sub-populations, whether that’s based on race, gender or any other special sub-population that they fall under.”

Alabama recently announced that they are undertaking a combined funding plan that combines financial resources from both Perkins as well as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The latter will help bring greater representation to those parts of the workforce that have been traditionally underrepresented.

“They will all be able to come together and understand their particular role in supporting the veterans if they’re veterans or supporting students with special needs or foster students. And those overlapping special populations from WIOA and Perkins, we’re definitely going to take special attention to them,” said Laney.

As the people in registered apprenticeships also diversifies, Laney said a big focus of the office is to start to tap industries where apprenticeships aren’t as common, like hospitality, IT and health care.

“[T]here are new types of apprenticeships being formed at the state and it’s being led by our industry partners. They're the ones coming and saying, ‘I’ve got to have people. I hear about this type of training program that I haven’t done before. Let's try it out,’” said Laney.

The AOA is in the process of assembling the Alabama Apprenticeship Council, which will help guide it moving forward. It will be comprised of some elected officials, some heads of workforce boards as well as nine appointed positions that will be confirmed by the Senate.

Laney said one of the biggest selling points of having the local office will be its ability to address community and business needs more quickly than the U.S. Department of Labor.

“[I]t’s much easier to call me and either me or someone from my staff will show up as quickly as possible to help you sort out any kind of roadblock you run into, when that hasn’t always been the case dealing with an outside office,” said Laney.

The U.S. Department of Labor has not provided a solid time line for when the AOA will be fully approved.

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