By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
High School students in Mobile and Baldwin County recently discovered the amazing career opportunities available through Alabama Community College System’s dual enrollment programs.
Rivers Eubanks knows a good deal when he sees one, and he sees it in a career path that leads him through the State’s two-year college system and eventually to a career in welding. He was among the nearly 300 Mobile and Baldwin County High School students who attended a recent career fair at AIDT’s Maritime Training Center in Mobile.
Eubanks and many of his fellow juniors and seniors at the event said they’re taking advantage of the Alabama Community College System’s dual enrollment programs, in which they can earn college credits in technology courses while completing their high school diplomas. As long as they’re in high school, the two-year courses are tuition-free.
“Free college is the best kind of college,” Eubanks said. In addition to his daytime classes at Robertsdale High School and South Baldwin Center for Technology, he takes welding classes at night at Fairhope Training Academy through Coastal Alabama Community College.
Eubanks attributes his drive to become a welder to his grandfather. “My grandfather always said that one day a welder would make as much as a doctor,” Eubanks said. “I don’t know that we’re to that point yet, but welders are in big demand, so we may get there.”
The event was co-hosted by ACCS and AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development Training) to give students a glimpse of Twenty-first century manufacturing careers.
Jeff Lynn, Senior Executive Director of Workforce and Economic Development for the two-year college system, noted during the event, “With two years of education, our students can enter the workforce with no debt and make a good living to support themselves and their families.” Lynn’s goal is to make sure that every student in Alabama knows the opportunities open to them through the partnerships created to offer career training.
Jacquie Allen, communications manager for AIDT said, “The agency’s partnership with the two-year college system allows Alabama to produce people who are ready for careers. These are high-skill, high-demand, high-salary jobs. You need training for them. When you’re finished with your training, you can find jobs that pay $40,000 or $50,000 a year.”
In addition to presentations by Coastal Alabama and Bishop State community colleges, students interacted with industry representatives from Austal USA, Ingalls Shipbuilding, Wesco, Alabama Power Co., Technical Training Aids, Mitternight Boiler Works, Performance Contractors and the Alabama National Guard.
While drones whirred nearby and robotic vehicles rolled among them, students were able to participate in virtual welding and observe a 3-D printer producing aircraft components used by Airbus at its assembly plant in Mobile.
Don Keeler, Vice President for Human Resources at Austal USA said, “The Mobile shipbuilder relies on the Maritime Training Center to provide specific training for new employees. It has been a huge asset for us,” Keeler said, calling AIDT “Alabama’s secret economic development weapon.”
As for workers in the maritime industry, competitive salaries provide a good living in such careers as welders, fitters, electricians and finish carpenters, according to Keeler. “They can have a family, a car and a house, they can take vacations, and they don’t have any student debt.”
The Alabama Community College System consists of 24 comprehensive community and technical colleges, Marion Military Institute and the Alabama Technology Network. ACCS serves approximately 185,000 people annually through all of its entities.
Al Thompson of Bay Minette, who represents District 1 on the ACCS board of trustees, said he was impressed by the array of industries on hand Tuesday to show students the kinds of jobs they offer. Thompson said two-year colleges are “known for affordability and accessibility” – a factor, he added, allows ACCS to “play a part in breaking the cycle of poverty in Alabama.”
Located near the Port of Mobile, the Maritime Training Center is one of four specialized training centers operated by AIDT throughout the state. Other centers are the Alabama Robotics Technology Park in Decatur, the Alabama Workforce Training Center in Birmingham and the Montgomery Regional Workforce Training Center in Montgomery.
ACCS and AIDT were assisted at Tuesday’s career day by staff from the Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council, which represents employers in eight counties and whose mission is to develop strategic partnerships that attract, educate and train students and workers to better meet employer needs and foster economic growth.