Sometimes overlooked and often unsung, Alabama’s community and technical colleges are on a roll. It is time they get the recognition they deserve as workhorses for the state’s economy.
There are 24 community and technical colleges in the state, located on 50 different campuses with over 130 service locations. This means every Alabamian reading these words is close to incredible education and training opportunities.
The colleges offer over 300 degrees and certifications, and award more than 30,000 credentials each year that show employers these students are serious about working.
More than 155,000 students are served by Alabama’s community colleges, and 95% of students live in Alabama. What is more, 71% choose to stay in Alabama after completing their studies. These students and alumni add an amazing $6.6 billion to Alabama’s economy each year, according to a report from Lightcast, a national firm that analyzes labor markets. Nearly 99,000 jobs in Alabama are generated or supported by Alabama’s community colleges, their students and alumni. To put it another way, that is one of every 27 jobs in the state.
Under the leadership of Chancellor Jimmy Baker, who took the helm of the Alabama Community College System in 2017, innovative and transformational programs are in place that “build strong Alabama people who are willing to work and do what it takes to move the state forward,” as Baker puts it.
Among the most impressive is the Innovation Center, a division of the ACCS that brings together the state’s community colleges, businesses and industries. These partners deliver Skills for Success training for careers that employers say are most in demand but lack qualified Alabama workers to fill.
By working together with Alabama businesses and industries, the ACCS Innovation Center ensures Skills for Success training is perfectly aligned with the jobs that employers say they need to fill right away.
Since its launch, a little more than a year ago, more than 2,700 Alabamians have benefitted from Skills for Success training. The appeal to trainees – other than getting the skills needed for an in-demand job – is the training is offered at no cost to them.
It is free to trainees thanks to appropriations from the state Legislature and support from Gov. Kay Ivey, who has put a strong emphasis on workforce training. The governor’s Success Plus initiative aims to add 500,000 Alabamians with postsecondary credentials to the state’s workforce by 2025. Rapid training from our community colleges will be key to reaching this important goal.
It is incredible to think that every Alabamian has the opportunity to receive no-cost training and become credentialed for jobs such as bulldozer operators, fiber optic technicians, truck drivers and more, but that is the reality of today’s community college system in our state.
As chancellor, Baker has wisely built a workforce training program around the skills that employers say they need in their workers. As a result, many students can walk right out of training and immediately into jobs that are waiting for someone with their exact skillset. The training is essentially “customized” for Alabama employers in desperate need of workers.
What is also innovative is how quickly Skills for Success training can be delivered. Part of each training course is offered online, with self-paced learning that can take place anywhere one can connect to the internet. Some have said they have completed the online training from their mobile phones over a few hours in the evening. When a trainee completes the online portion of the course, they then get hands-on training with qualified instructors at a nearby community college or some other regional location.
The average Skills for Success course can be completed in as little as two or three weeks. Any Alabamian can sign up for no-cost training and in less than a month have a community college credential that shows employers they have the skills and qualifications to do the job. With Skills for Success training, they are “job-ready” on day one for jobs that are in high demand throughout the state thanks to the forward-thinking leaders of the Alabama Community College System and the state Legislature.
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the Alabama Legislature. Readers can email him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Community college system provides boost to Alabama’s economy | INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE