Jeff Lynn, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development at the Alabama Community College System, has used data to crush a number of victories for Alabama:
- Implementing an MSSC program to support Alabama’s manufacturing industry, state-wide.
- Gaining approval for a new $21M advanced manufacturing training center in Mobile that will offer programs crucial to manufacturing.
- Winning Alabama’s bid for Mazda-Toyota’s new automobile manufacturing plant.
- Presenting data at legislative sessions and workforce board meetings in such a way that secured funding and encouraged board members to likewise use data in order to prosper their communities.
Jeff Lynn, the “Warren Buffett” of economic development
A high and inspiring standard for workforce and economic development professionals everywhere has been set by Jeff Lynn, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development at the Alabama Community College System (ACCS).
Lynn, nicknamed the “Warren Buffett of workforce development,” was previously the executive director of workforce development programs at Louisiana Economic Development. There he used Emsi data to develop the award-winning LED FastStart program, nationally recognized as the premier workforce development in the United States. And he has brought similar data-driven success to Alabama.
Late in 2016 Lynn transitioned to the ACCS, which has 24 community colleges with more than 130 locations and which benefits upwards of 168,000 people in the state of Alabama each year. In less than three years, Lynn has used labor market data to score a number of high-profile victories. From securing funding and support at the legislative level, all the way down to developing programs and attracting businesses, he has made “data” the name of the game.
Lynn operates on two principles. First, serve the customer. He is attuned to his region’s and his workforce’s particular needs. For example, workers in Alabama’s high-poverty areas aren’t likely to be transient, so Lynn has implemented training that imparts skills employable within the state. “We focus on the programs and credentials that get people employable in their region,” he says.
But to crush this first principle best, you need the second: use labor market data to drive your decisions. For Lynn, this means using Emsi. A lot. His immediate response to any suggestion, query, or hunch is, “Let’s see what Emsi says.” But he also confirms and complements data with conversations with real people. No program is developed or adjusted without the go-ahead from local businesses.
“We’re not in the office,” Lynn says. “We’re in the field, talking to clients, listening to their needs—because those are our customers hiring our students. We get companies to affirm, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what we need. We are going to hire those people who complete that program.”
What do these principles look like in action? Lynn’s strategy is simple. He uses Emsi’s labor market data to:
1. Know the economy. Example: Lynn confirmed manufacturing’s vital position in the bedrock of Alabama’s economy, then helped spearhead the statewide implementation of a highly regarded MSSC program to support the industry.
2. Align and develop programs. Example: Lynn won approval for a new $21M advanced manufacturing training center in Mobile. The center will offer programs crucial to manufacturing growth.
3. Attract businesses and build the necessary workforce. Example: Lynn played a key role in winning Alabama’s bid for Mazda-Toyota’s new automobile manufacturing plant. Thanks to the MSSC program, Alabama is already in position to train workers.
4. Educate legislators. Example: Lynn presented data at legislative sessions and workforce board meetings. His didn’t just secure funding, he also spurred his fellow workforce and economic development professionals to use data to prosper their communities.
1. Know your economy
When Lynn took position at the ACCS, he ran analytics on Emsi’s labor market research tool to see what made up his new home’s economic “DNA,” as he calls it. Manufacturing, as a quick Google search will tell you, is a big deal in Alabama. But Lynn’s in-depth research demonstrated just how big. Manufacturing forms part of the very heart of Alabama’s vitality.
The problem? Lack of talent. Alabama had neither the programs nor the workforce pipeline to support current companies in this fundamental industry, let alone attract new businesses. “It’s critical to provide training programs that are in demand not just by existing companies but also by aspirational companies you’re trying to attract,” says Lynn. “That’s the fastest way to grow wealth within your state.”
So under the leadership of Lynn and Governor Kay Ivey, the ACCS forged a partnership with the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC). Alabama thus became first in the nation to implement MSSC’s eminent CPT (Certified Production Technicians) and CLT (Certified Logistics Technicians) certifications state-wide.
The new program would help support Alabama’s manufacturing base in general; but unbeknownst to Lynn, it would also prove to be the lifeblood for another incredible opportunity just around the corner. (See the Mazda-Toyota story below.)
2. Align and develop programs
Keying off his research in step one, Lynn works closely with regional workforce development councils to ensure ACCS programs are aligned with industry needs. “We use Emsi data on a weekly basis to review our programs,” he says. “In fact, there’s a person trained in Emsi at every college. Emsi data helps us make the best use of our faculty and adjust our programs to real needs. If the target occupation doesn’t show high demand or offer high wages in Emsi, we don’t fund the program.”
A recent example of successful program development is Bishop State Community College’s anticipated $21M advanced manufacturing training center in Mobile. The 80,000-square-foot training center (approved in April 2019, construction imminent) will house in-demand programs such as industrial maintenance, electronics engineering technology, additive and subtractive manufacturing, pipefitting technology, and fluid power technology, with an area devoted specifically for process technology.
All of these were skills discovered by Lynn to be indispensable for jobs in Bishop State’s service region in southwest Alabama, an area uniquely dense with manufacturing: auto, aerospace, shipbuilding, petrochemicals, steel, and other sub-industries. At that time, however, students had to travel almost two hours west to Mississippi Gulf Coast State College for the requisite training. Given the significant number of workers in Alabama that needed these advanced manufacturing skills, it made sense to bring the training home to them.
So Lynn assembled a program-planning team with local companies, including global shipbuilder Austal and the rapidly expanding Airbus. Together, they created a plan for the high-tech programs to be housed in the future training center at Bishop State. “Using data, I was able to prove that, A, we needed the advanced manufacturing training center, and B, these were the programs we should offer,” says Lynn. “When you look at the manufacturing scene in Alabama, these programs are going to make a huge impact on jobs.”
3. Attract businesses and build the necessary workforce
A couple years ago, Southern and Midwestern states were at a rolling boil of activity as they scrambled to win the by-invitation-only bidding war for Mazda-Toyota’s massive, $1.6 billion US assembly plant. Lynn was instrumental in pitching Huntsville. Brought to bear was his signature expertise: he understood Mazda-Toyota’s needs and he understood Huntsville’s talent. Using Emsi data, he demonstrated that Huntsville boasted the required workforce and could also develop the stunning pipeline necessary to sustain Mazda-Toyota’s 50-year vision.
“I showed Mazda-Toyota not only that we could help them immediately, but during the time it would take for them to build this plant, I could create the workforce they needed—right on target with their hiring practices,“ Lynn says. “Creating that pipeline: that’s what really excites companies. Once you create a pipeline, not just short-term pre-employment training, but a real pipeline where you’re feeding industry sectors—that’s the key thing.”
How will Alabama ready this workforce? By utilizing the recently implemented MSSC certification program, already supporting most of the manufacturing companies across the state. The program was precisely what the new plant needed, as Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing USA talent acquisition manager Scott Russo attested. Russo had what he called a “eureka moment” when Lynn presented the program. Had he designed the program himself, Russo told Lynn, he would have designed precisely this. “MSSC’s CPT certification provides students with a foundation in safety, quality, manufacturing processes, and maintenance awareness,” Russo said. “These are fundamental tools used in advanced manufacturing jobs.”
“Showing Mazda-Toyota the data and showing them our MSSC program helped persuade them, ‘Hey, workforce is not an issue for North Alabama,” says Lynn. “That went a long way towards clinching the deal as they considered the current workforce, the people that are trainable, and the workers who could transition over from similar industries.”
Indeed, with nearly a dozen other states competing for the new facility, Huntsville’s workforce was the deciding factor for Mazda-Toyota, who announced Huntsville as the winner in January 2018. “There is enough quality workforce in Huntsville,” praised Toyota president Akio Toyoda. And according to Toyota North America CEO James Lentz: “Quality of the labor force to me is probably the most important part.”
Now Mazda-Toyota is building the jointly owned and operated automotive production plant based on the workforce Lynn promised Alabama could deliver. The training plant, which plans to open in 2021, will bring 4,000 jobs to North Alabama, but thanks to the multiplier effect, tier-one and tier-two jobs will bring that total up to as many as 16,000 jobs. “It’s great activity,” says Lynn.
4. Educate legislators
“Data-use was fairly new for Alabama when I got here,” Lynn remembers. “Many times, decisions were based on anecdotal data or suggestions or complaints like ‘I can’t find the right people.’ But you need data to validate your plans. You can propose lots of ideas, but if you don’t have data to back it up—it doesn’t make sense.”
So Lynn embarked on state-wide tours and hosted dinners with Alabama legislators, many of whom were new. He presented to the governor, the lieutenant governor, the Alabama Workforce Council, and ACCS’s board of trustees. Using Emsi data, he explored each region’s DNA and explained the economic drivers that deserved focus and funding.
He demonstrated that the jobs in highest demand were predominantly middle-skill jobs requiring anything from a certificate to an associate degree—exactly the jobs that the ACCS trains for. Regarding Emsi, he explained to his audience: “This is reliable, factual data. It’s the data we use to make decisions for our budget, our grants, whom we hire, whom we don’t hire.”
His audience was impressed. As a result, Lynn didn’t simply secure funding and support, he also ignited the conviction among board members to adopt data in their decision-making in order to align programs, attract businesses, and serve their communities better. “ ‘We need to use data too’ was the consensus,” says Lynn. “The data helped them understand where Alabama should invest in education for our workforce, as well as where we should adjust our programs.”
“Emsi has really helped us in a short period of time,” says Lynn. First of all, incorporating data has helped him significantly improve the ROI of his investments—be they new programs, new buildings, or new partnerships. Second, and more big-picture, data has helped Lynn fulfill every workforce and economic developer’s mission: to prosper their communities. “At the end of the day, we’re able to change lives,” says Lynn. “That’s the cool thing. We’re helping families and companies in Alabama grow and be successful.”
About Jeff Lynn
Jeff Lynn is the vice chancellor of workforce and economic development at the Alabama Community College System. Previously, he was executive director of workforce development programs at Louisiana Economic Development, where he developed the nation’s top-ranked workforce training program: LED FastStart. He chairs the Statewide Educational Attainment Committee, the governor-appointed committee tasked with developing a state attainment goal and strategy. He also serves on the Alabama Workforce Council, the board of directors of the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, Aerospace Alliance, AlabamaGermany Partnership, and Alabama Robotics Technology Park Executive Board.
Jeff Lynn will present on this case study at Emsi2019, our ninth annual users’ conference, September 16-18, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Seating is limited! Register here. Emsi2019 contact: Gwen Burrow, firstname.lastname@example.org.