Alabama Works Workforce Development Council

Jeff Coleman, CEO of Covan World-Wide Moving, Inc., talks to students at Dale County High School during a presentation from the Alabama Works Workforce Development Council on Wednesday.

In the 1990s, scientists and pop-culture figures often made outrageous claims or warnings for future pandemics, technological inventions or new cultural norms.

The highly respected RAND Corp., a global think tank that’s contributed to the space program and development of the internet, said in 1994 that it expected the world will employ animals for menial labor by 2020.

The panel suggested that it would be possible to breed more intelligent species of apes and train them well enough to do housework and gardening — for households that are without a robot — and could even become the family’s personal chauffeur.

Maybe those events could have unfolded. After all, many apes are already capable of following simple orders and communicating with humans via sign language. But, maybe the cautionary predictions in modern versions of the “Planet of the Apes” films deterred the scientific community from further exploring that path.

History’s greatest scientists and technology experts have fussed up many grand predictions about how people would operate in the 21st century. In 1966, reporters wrote in Time magazine a prediction that people wouldn’t be really working at all — but we’d still be rich.

In an essay titled “The Futurists,” they predicted society to be an “automated industry” for not only manual workers, but also secretaries and most middle-level managers. Their jobs would be replaced by computers and remaining executives will be responsible for major decisions and long-range policy.

“Thus, society will seem idle, by present standards. According to one estimate, only 10% of the population will be working, and the rest will, in effect, have to be paid to be idle,” the essay stated. “There just won’t be enough work to go around.”

In fact, in today’s wages, it was estimated that people would be paid roughly $300,000 a year to do essentially nothing.

In Chandler Bing’s voice … could they BE more wrong?

It is easy to see why experts in the 1900s believed that the United States and other global leaders would invest in robotic technology — an idea touted by pop-culture films like “Terminator” and “Back to the Future.”

But none could have guessed that the United States in 2020 would be investing in today’s biggest asset — its people. Workforce development is the name of the game nowadays, and it’s a phrase you’re not likely to stop hearing anytime soon.

Government, education and community leaders in Alabama are taking every opportunity to emphasize the critical need for a skilled human workforce.

With Alabama’s unemployment rate steadily declining — in part because of those belonging to the baby-boom generation beginning to retire in droves — big companies that rely on human capital are scraping the barrel to find skilled employees.

To better meet those needs, Alabama is taking proactive steps to quicken a student’s journey from high school graduation to a paying job. Though it may be too little too late to change the dialogue in education, federal and state governments are spending a great deal of money to roll back a decades-long push to get students to attend college.

Most notable in those efforts in the Yellowhammer State, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $12 million grant focused on advanced manufacturing education to the Alabama Community College System in June.

Specifically, the grant will be used to extend the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education or FAME program at Calhoun Community College to three other junior colleges, including our own Wallace Community College. The apprenticeship program trains students to fill a wide variety of needs in partnership with local businesses.

The grant is also being used to “quick-start” pre-apprenticeship programs to earn certifications that prepare students for other in-demand jobs in manufacturing.

Workforce development also is being encouraged with investments on the local and state levels with initiatives like Smart Work Ethics curriculum, and the “Citizen Promise” program in its infancy at Dothan City Schools.

Large employers like Southeast Health, Bondy’s Ford Lincoln dealership and HealthCenter South are carving out their stake in educational institutions like the Dothan Technology Center, Houston County Career Academy, Troy University and Wallace to shape students in their formative years and create a talent pipeline that will feed into their growing businesses.

Ozark’s Alabama Aviation College has streamlined the process between education institutions by getting its foot in the door at many Wiregrass vocational training centers.

The investments and efforts taking place are proof that people, for now at least, are still the nation’s most valuable capital.

To “The Futurist” authors’ credit, however, they were not completely off base in all of their future predictions. They were correct in guessing that women of the present would be shopping for groceries on their “video phones.” Earlier today, I ordered groceries to pick up tomorrow through the Walmart Grocery App on my iPhone X, a device with more than 100,000 times the processing power of Apollo 11’s computer.

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Chalk Talk, an education notebook compiled by education beat reporter Sable Riley, appears each weekend in the Dothan Eagle and at dothaneagle.com.

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