When a rail car manufacturing plant was opening in the shoals, the company needed 600 welders. There were not enough workers skilled in this trade to fill the slots.
Alabama Industrial Development Training answered the need. Limestone County Economic Development Association President Tom Hill regularly meets with an AIDT committee that identifies local industry training needs.
“There’s a lot of workforce development training going on in this state,” said Hill. “District 2 is comprised of eight counties of which we are a part of in North Alabama. I’m part of a committee of recruiters and academic representatives that meets regularly to give advice to junior colleges and reviews grant applications.
AIDT is an institution of the Alabama Community College System with the mission of providing job-specific training.
“Companies are still challenged to find skilled workers, which are not at the level Alabama employers want to see,” said Hill. “AIDT is charged with working with new companies. The Robotics Center that is opening in September is a vital part of this. The center is under the management of Calhoun Community College and AIDT.”
Calhoun has a technology curriculum that offers, among other courses, CAD-CAM design, machine tooling and aerospace technology.
AIDT has training centers in Huntsville, Montgomery, Mobile and Sylacauga. The agency has project-based facilities at Honda in Lincoln, Hyundai in Hope Hull, Mercedes-Benz U.S. in Vance and ThyssenKrupp Steel & Stainless in Calvert.
AIDT is currently seeking applicants for day classes in maritime welding at the Bryant School in Irvington.
According to a Reuters News Service story, which cites a worldwide Manpower Inc. survey, since the 1970s, parents have been told that a university degree was the only track to a financially secure profession.
“But all of the skilled trades offer a career path with an almost assured income,” said Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres.
Joerres goes on to say that the shortage of specialized skills such as electricians, carpenters and welders are an obstacle to global economic recovery.
One of the reasons for the skilled trades shortages, Manpower found, is that most of the workers are over 50 and nearing retirement.
Go Build Alabama
The building trades in Alabama are also faced with the challenge of filling skilled trades positions left vacant by retiring workers. To combat this trend, a week ago the state’s construction industry launched an education and recruitment campaign to bring new people to the commercial and industrial construction trades.
The “Go Build Alabama” campaign is a product of the Alabama Construction Institute, which was created by Act 220 of the 2010 Legislature. ACRI is funded through an employer fee levied upon wages paid to certain skilled construction workers on commercial and industrial job sites across the state. Contractors pay $90 for every $100,000 in applicable wages. The fee structure is designed to generate $1.75 million per year to fund the program.
The campaign is partnering with Mike Rowe, executive producer and host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” which is an advocate of skilled labor. Rowe is appearing in the initial advertisements for the campaign.
“We used to tell our kids that learning a trade was a great way to secure a worthwhile future,” Rowe says on the GoBuildAlabama website. “We don’t tell them that anymore. Today, we tell them if they want to get a really good job they are going to need a four-year degree. We’ve lumped the skilled trades into the ‘alternative education’ category and turned the entire field of study into some sort of vocational consolation prize. Is it any wonder we have a shortage of qualified tradesmen today?”
Pat Gatlin, human resources manager for Custom Polymers in Elm Street Industrial Park, said the company has been “blessed” in being able, so far, to fill skilled trades positions in maintenance and process engineering.
Melissa Elliott, assistant manager of human resources at Toyota in Huntsville, said that company has slots to fill in maintenance and facilities.
“We have difficulty filling those jobs,” said Elliott. “We are working at developing a cooperative education program with Wallace State and Calhoun. It is not implemented, but it is under development.
“The Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, of which our general manager of manufacturing, Mark Brazeal, is president and head of the scholarship committee, is offering 25 scholarships to junior colleges.”