MUSCLE SHOALS — Gary Dan Williams admired the craftsmanship in display as carpentry students cut precise angles and made perfect plans while building a small room.
Williams, career and technical director at the Muscle Shoals Center for Technology, later marveled at the delicate welds students provided in a welding class at the center.
“These kids, they need to be working,” Williams said. “They are really learning their trades well. We hope to get some partners who will work with us on this program.”
The program is Pathfinders, which is a new venture that attempts to connect students at the Muscle Shoals center with local businesses.
The idea is to match the needs of local industries with the skills of the students. Williams said he wants to find out specifically what types of work local businesses need, so the center can prepare students for that work.
A major aspect of the program involves the students interning with local businesses.
“We want there to be a slot the company could have each semester for a student,” he said. “A student could work there for the semester, and then a new student could come in the next semester.
“There’s always been a disconnect. We prepare the students and the businesses, but then the industries say what we’ve taught them is not really what they wanted.”
Often, a company shies away from internships for various reasons such as liability issues. With the Pathfinders program, company officials don’t have to worry about those, he said.
That’s because the human-resources firm Lyons HR is partnering with the center for technology on the program. The students will be employees of Lyons, so the firm handles clerical and insurance tasks, liability and other human-resources issues associated with being an employer.
“There would be no extra paperwork for the company,” Williams said. “Lyons HR bills the company and pays the worker.
“We want this to be a pilot program for the entire state. It’s starting with the Muscle Shoals Center for Technology, but we want other systems to have it, as well.”
An internship would amount to 270 hours in a semester, Williams said. That’s about 15 hours of work per week.
“Typically, they’d leave school at 2 p.m. and work,” he said.
The internship also prepares students by exposing them to all aspects of the work experience, such as understanding what is expected of them and getting along with fellow employees.
“People want to see students here find good-paying jobs here,” Williams said. “Too many leave the area, not wanting to leave but having to, in order to get a job.”
In addition, the center is focusing on students receiving credentials associated with their field.
For example, there are plate tests that are required in order to be certified with the American Welding Society. Welding students will take those tests before graduating.
Students also will receive certifications needed in other aspects of business, such as requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Business office students will have Microsoft certification.
Center officials are putting out the word about the program to local businesses, in hopes that they will participate.
“The one thing we’re missing is that real-world working experience,” Williams said. “These students are as ready as we can get them. It’s time for businesses and industries to step up and take them to that next level.”
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.