With temperatures still hot and muggy, it might not feel like it’s time to go back to school in the South, but the most wonderful time of the year is here for parents. At least, that’s how parents often think about the back to school season. But this year, words like confusion and controversy seem to define the season. With Alabama facing unpredictable COVID-19 numbers, the debate about what to do continues. But one principal in Alabama brings some levity to the stressful situation with his M.C. Hammer spoof on “Can’t Touch This.” The video has some great dance moves, catchy phrases, and millions of views that will hopefully help students remember the social distancing rules. Despite sports being iffy for the fall, education has to happen.
The Lowdown on Alabama School Plans and State Response
|School Plans||While there’s a variety in the responses across the state, 31 school districts (including places like Huntsville and Birmingham) will be virtual to begin the year. While some have already begun, many of the districts are pushing start dates until later in August. Fifteen school districts are providing a hybrid approach, and the other 96 school districts are offering a choice of traditional or virtual. Parents are able to decide based on their child’s needs.
Mask rules and temperature checks vary by school district as well. While some districts will be relying on parental support, some schools will be ready with temperature checks and hand sanitizing stations. Dallas County went so far as to order plexiglass barriers for student desks in order to allow periods of time for students to remove their masks. School districts with traditional vs. virtual options may allow adjustments after nine weeks. It’s clear that parents have a lot more to navigate this year than ever before.
|State Responses||Governor Kay Ivey has extended her “Safer At Home” order until August 31. The order requires masks when out in public, except for those with medical conditions or disabilities. Children under the age of six are not required to wear masks. The order also requests a reduction in travel and requires mandatory social distancing. While many places or events are not completely closed like other areas, there are capacity and activity restrictions.|
ALABAMA’S DEFENSE INDUSTRY EMPLOYERS
Alabama has a long history of aerospace and aviation industry presence. Defense industry giants Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon have all selected to have a large presence in Alabama. While commercial portions of aviation companies are on life support, the defense side of the house remains strong. From missile defense to a NASA facility to helicopter pilot training, the state has a lot of job opportunities for the defense industry. Despite the unexpected arrival of COVID-19, Alabama defense contractor PeopleTec reports they’ve been able to make more than 90 hires this year, and take advantage of remote interviews, onboarding, and social distancing for new employee orientation.
“We have adjusted well to the changing environment of recruiting due to the restrictions and limitations caused by COVID-19. Thanks to our IT Department and their foresight and flexibility, we have been able to increase the amount of virtual and remote interviews held throughout the past six months, which has resulted in very little disruption to our hiring process,” said Michael Allen, Technical Recruiter for PeopleTec. “We have continually modified our process to meet the recommended guidelines, which means we are still hiring.”
He noted the same flexibility that they’ve embraced in their hiring and onboarding process has been used to support employees, some of whom are still working 100% remotely while others have adopted staggered schedules with time split between the office and home. “Now, with the addition of virtual learning environments for school-aged children, we have to consider additional challenges and come up with possible resolutions, particularly as our employees navigate homeschool and customer obligations,” said Allen. “A blanket policy just doesn’t fit with a situation like this.”
“Keeping the people-centric values on which we were founded at the forefront, PeopleTec has met the evolving requirements with flexibility and adaptability,” said Allen. “This pandemic has been extremely unique, and while our work environment has changed and our policies have adapted, we have not wavered in our commitment to do what is necessary to ensure we have the tools in place to support both our customers and our employees.”
Businesses across the globe continue to note that hiring will continue – and new talent is needed – despite the pandemic.
“Moseley is still hiring; we have over 150 job openings,” said Alena Chandler, marketing and social media coordinator, Moseley Technical Services, Inc. “Our key positions include software engineers, cyber security roles, information assurance and system administrators. Our biggest hurdle is finding candidates with TS/SCI or above clearances. We make sure we are transparent with our candidates with the current landscape of safety precautions and protocols at the various locations. It’s imperative that we keep constant communication with customers and candidates to ensure any childcare or school changes are identified and handled immediately. We feel that overall, our customers have been very eager to support our employees on assignment through this pandemic.”
While candidates should be up front with their employers about childcare and scheduling challenges, most employers note they’re also being proactive with their personnel, making sure they’re getting the support they need.
“We feel it’s our responsibility to stay in open communication with all our employees and customers as the school year progresses and as the schedules may change,” said Chandler. And while many cleared positions simply aren’t remote work compatible, that doesn’t mean flexibility isn’t an option. “What we have found more and more is that our customers are allowing our employees to work flex schedules and alternate shift work to support anyone with childcare challenges.”
Alabama Events Go Virtual
It isn’t just workplaces and learning environments going virtual, though – it’s conferences and events, as well, which are also a part of Alabama’s Huntsville economy.
This year’s Space and Missile Defense (SMD) symposium will be labeled vSMD, with the “v” standing for virtual. Past years have hosted 4,000-4,500 aerospace and defense company executives, military officers, reporters, and industry wizards. With a virtual experience in 2020, Raytheon Technologies’ Huntsville site executive, Patti Dare, admits that it will be different. Raytheon is a major sponsor of the yearly event. The impact to mission reinforcement, as well as the local economy, will likely be felt.
STAY FLEXIBLE AND GET CREATIVE
With a diversity of school options throughout the state, flexibility continues to be a key quality in both employees and employers. Ideally, the past six months spent developing coping methods for balancing work and school needs will pay dividends for working parents in cities like Huntsville or Birmingham, as they begin the school year with kids online.
“What we’ve gone through in the past six months has prepared us to be flexible and ask important questions,” said Allen. “In general, working remotely has become more normal and much more acceptable than it was six months ago and we want to ensure our employees have the best possible resources available to navigate these challenging times.”