Laura Kappler-Roberts and Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth discuss the critical workforce needs at Kappler's protective clothing production facility in Guntersville.


November 20th, 2020

Lt. Gov and other leaders visit Kappler to discuss workforce development

Kappler hosts state leaders for discussion about "thinking outside the box" to address critical workforce development needs.

On November 4 Kappler hosted a group of state officials to discuss the critical and changing needs of workforce development programs. The group was led by Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth and included other elected officials plus education leaders from K-12, the community college system and the governor’s office. 

The event was organized by Lt. Gov. Ainsworth, based on the suggestion of Kappler President and CEO Laura Kappler-Roberts who had conveyed a common theme heard from industry leaders today: 

“I just need people to show up for work!” 

In addition to her role at the helm of Kappler, Kappler-Roberts serves as a board member for the local K-12 school system, The Schools of Guntersville. She is a long-time proponent of STEM (Science, Technical, Engineering, Mathematics) education initiatives, and as a manufacturer she is especially concerned with workforce development. 

She explained to the group how small and large businesses alike are experiencing a tremendous challenge with retaining a productive workforce and this has implications of stunting industry growth.

Why is this?

Kappler-Roberts pointed out what she sees as a fundamental breakdown in the value system and basic work ethic, noting specific examples.

“There is a breakdown in the value that appreciates giving a decent day’s work for a decent day’s wage,” she said. 

“There is a breakdown in the joy of finding purpose and fulfillment as well as in working and being a productive citizen, contributing to a community. There is a breakdown in valuing the greater good of all over one’s own self.”

These deficiencies have become even more pronounced due to the pandemic: School closures have created a cascading event of worker shortages due to parents being forced to choose between work and childcare. 
That specific aspect of the challenge, Kappler-Roberts noted, could be addressed by redirecting part of unemployment funding toward daycare support.

“It could be used to to aid daycare centers with grants, and issue vouchers to working parents to help pay for daycare in order to bridge the gap while schools are shutting down erratically,” she said.

In Kappler’s case, the local workforce limitations have forced the company to look outside of its Marshall County employee base for both domestic and offshore contractors to provide production capacity to meet customer demand.

Kappler-Roberts also explained her view that the declining values have traditionally been established from our faith and family systems. Today those systems are fragile, causing challenges throughout the education and workforce systems.

The goal of the meeting at Kappler was to identify creative, “out of the box” solutions that K-12 education and community college systems can incorporate early in a student’s life to help them develop into a productive citizen who values purpose, hard work, showing up, and commitment to others.

Kappler-Roberts spoke to the group about a fantastic program going on at the Enterprise, AL Early Education Center ). Many in the Lt. Governor’s group were were familiar with the program, called WeeCat Industries (learn more here https://bit.ly/3kQIkEk). This program provides 3- to 5-year-olds the framework to achieve basic citizenship skills, civic engagement and career skills.

Kappler-Roberts challenged the education system to consider such programs be implemented in at least 5th grade, if not earlier, and build on these programs through high school.

“You’ve dropped the ball if you’re focused on career development only in high school. We must start earlier in order to support the growth of core values and work ethic,“ she said.

Kappler-Roberts expressed appreciation to Lt. Gov. Ainsworth for organizing the group’s visit, which included a tour of the Kappler campus and manufacturing facilities. She noted the enthusiastic participation of the visitors who joined her and Kappler’s senior management team for the day’s activities. The complete list of state leaders who participated included:

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth
Judy Miller, Lt. Gov. Chief of Staff
Cole Wagner, Senate Liaison/Workforce Coordinator
Jimmy Baker, Chancellor, Alabama Community College System
Dr. Eric Mackey, Superintendent, Alabama Department of Education
Nick Moore, Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation
State Senator Clay Scofield
State Representative Wes Kitchens
State Representative Kerry Rich

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