MUSCLE SHOALS — The chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college systems is pushing ingenuity and partnerships in workforce development education at the community college level.
Mark Heinrich, who was named head of the state’s community college system in September, told the Greater Shoals/Sheffield Rotary Club that more involvement from industry representatives in determining course study will establish a better trained, more employable workforce.
Heinrich pointed toward a successful program at Shelton State Community College, where he formerly served as president. There, Heinrich said he sought input from management personnel at the Mercedes Benz manufacturing facility on ways to better prepare students for high-wage, high-demand jobs at the plant. From that, the mechatronics program, a combination of mechanical and electrical training, was born.
“The first day in the classroom, (a student) starts in the factory,” Heinrich said.
He said to date, each student to complete the mechatronics program, has been offered full-time employment.
At Northwest-Shoals Community College, partnerships similar to that are in place and are constantly evolving to equip students to enter the workforce.
Glenda Colagross, vice president of instruction at Northwest-Shoals Community College, said the college has worked with Wise Alloys for training programs in management and in technical programs.
Northwest-Shoals also has cooperative education programs in place with International Paper and Pilgrim’s Pride.
Advisory boards made up of industry leaders also act as consultants to the technical programs and give input on trends and skills that need to be taught, said Rose Jones, associate dean of workforce development.
“That’s been a core component of our programs to make sure we are offering what the industries need,” Jones said.
Partnerships of that nature are in even greater demand as industry grows around the state.
“We can not fill the needs,” Heinrich said. “How are we going to fill the needs? That is one thing I wake up every morning thinking about.”
He said Mercedes and Airbus will both need 1,000 more industrial maintenance people in the near future.
“We’ve got programs in place that are churning them out, but we just aren’t there,” he said.
One stumbling block, Heinrich said, are misconceptions that technical jobs are “dirty, greasy jobs that don’t pay particularly well.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. “People in industrial maintenance start at $60,000 to $70,000 after a two-year degree, and you don’t have to be working long in the field when you are in six figures. It certainly is lucrative.”
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com.