58 INC., CentralSix AlabamaWorks!, and The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce hosted a “Signing Day” event to celebrate the launch of three U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) Registered Apprenticeship Programs in machine tool technology, welding and industrial maintenance in collaboration with Jefferson State Community College, Lawson State Community College and a consortium of employers from Chilton, Jefferson and Shelby Counties. This is a direct response to the expressed needs of local employers for highly skilled trades in manufacturing.
In 2018, 58 Inc., The Shelby County Chamber, Lawson State and three employers successfully launched the first consortium style U.S. DOL Registered Apprenticeship in the Birmingham region with eight apprentices in machining. Over the past year, representatives from 58 INC., The Shelby County Chamber and CentralSix AlabamaWorks! identified additional companies with similar hiring challenges and began meeting to design workforce solutions that address their lack of skilled welders, machinists and industrial maintenance technicians. These organizations have since partnered to recruit candidates for all three Registered Apprenticeships from a pool of recently graduated high school students, adults re-entering the workforce, current community college students and those seeking to upskill. Interviews with employers were held earlier this summer and apprentices were hired and committed themselves to the training program. It is this commitment that is being celebrated by the “Signing Day” event. Much like a collegiate athlete signing event, organizers wish to draw attention to the high demand, skilled trades by ceremonially celebrating the commitment that both the employer and the apprentice make to one another.
“With consistently low unemployment in Shelby County, our employers need creative workforce development strategies to upskill current workers and increase workforce participation rates. As employers’ demands for specific skillsets evolve, we will continue to answer with direct programming solutions as we have this year by adding welding and industrial maintenance apprenticeship options in partnership with CentralSix AlabamaWorks!. Shelby County’s desire in creating 58 INC. has always been to have a conduit to serve our employers, communities and workers with programming and solutions that meet them where their needs are and to partner efficiently with and supportive of regional efforts.” Chad Scroggins, 58 INC. Board President.
With significant economic development successes taking place throughout the State of Alabama, effective workforce development programming is essential to ensuring that companies have employees with the skill sets needed to compete in a global economy. “When companies are deciding on where to locate, I always remind them that Alabama places a major emphasis on our workforce development efforts. This ‘Signing Day’ event is an exciting an innovative way to launch three U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship Programs,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “To be competitive in the global economy and to give every Alabamian a chance for success, we must ensure we provide them the tools to be highly-skilled and well equipped.”
58 INC. Director of Development Melody Whitten commented, “The event today is the culmination of immense effort on the part of many working in collaboration to create and implement an apprenticeship consortium in the region. However, the apprentices and the companies are the focus of today’s celebration as it would not have been possible without their interest, commitment, talents and resources. We congratulate everyone involved and wish them the best as they begin a new journey!”
Those apprentices participating in today’s event are equally excited about their future. Walter Jones, machinist apprentice for Process Barron in Pelham, stated, “I’m very excited for the opportunity to work with a great company in a career field that I am interested in.” Prior to accepting this position, Jones served in the U.S. Army after graduating from Thompson High School in Alabaster.
Mathew Yunke, a 2019 graduate of Helena High School and welding apprentice for Vulcan Materials added, “I appreciate Vulcan for giving me an opportunity to kick start my career. I’m excited to receive my education while gaining on-the-job experience with Vulcan.” He went on to say, “Thank you to my instructor, Lynn Miller of Shelby County Technical Education Center, for training me and preparing me for the future, to help develop my skills in the welding program and to giving me a chance to get into this program.”
While some participants are recent high school graduates, others are well into their working lives and looking for a true career path. For Michael O’Neal of Shelby, Alabama, he says, “The Industrial Maintenance Apprenticeship is a life-changing opportunity. I get more than a good job, I get a career with job security, raises, and a college education. It is a perfect fit for me.” O’Neal will apprentice with CMC Steel.
Company participation in the consortium requires a financial commitment to employ the apprentice and pay for tuition but offers employers direct access to a pipeline of students. The participating employers did not question the value of the financial commitment. Lee Higginbotham, Business Operations Manager for Precision Grinding said, “PGI has been very fortunate to participate in both the Welding and Machinist Apprenticeship Programs in the past year, and we have already witnessed the success of the official training program with our employees. The resources provided by the state of Alabama and local governments are key to the success of developing the work force of tomorrow.” He went on to say, “PGI is excited to be a part of these programs and invest in the future. Our State and local government agencies are working and working well for our communities and businesses. We also want to thank 58 Inc., Shelby County Chamber, the Alabaster Career Center, Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama Department of Labor, CentralSix AlabamaWorks! and Lawson State Community College for all their help in this process.”
Jefferson State Community College, Lawson State Community College, and CentralSix AlabamaWorks! serve as the sponsors of the apprenticeships and are thus responsible for designing and executing the program in its entirety through documentation, oversight, reporting and administrative functions. Antiqua Clegget, Executive Director of CentralSix AlabamaWorks! stated, “As a sponsor, we are excited to partner with our local companies, colleges, and economic development organizations to develop innovative workforce solutions through apprenticeships. These programs develop new talent pipelines that did not exist before, providing employers with skilled workers and individuals with career opportunities. We are happy to celebrate our apprentices as they begin this fall!”
“Lawson State is excited to continue to build upon our partnership with 58 Inc., CentralSix and the U.S. Department of Labor to be the training provider for the Machine Tool, Industrial Maintenance, and Welding Certified Apprenticeship Programs. The training programs will provide employers with a qualified workforce, a curriculum validated by the Department of Labor, and provide students the opportunity to gain valuable technical skills to succeed in the marketplace.” stated Dr. Perry W. Ward, Lawson State Community College President.
Keith Brown, President of Jefferson State Community College added, “We are delighted to be a part of this collaborative effort to address the workforce needs in our community. Only through business and industry, economic development entities and education providers coming together can we impact the critical shortages of highly skilled workers. We are also grateful for the expanded opportunities for our students and look forward to the continued cultivation of their success.”
Companies Committed to the Registered Apprenticeship Program are as follows:
Precision Grinding (Birmingham)
Vulcan Materials (Birmingham)
Cahaba Maintenance & Construction (Calera)
CMC Steel (Birmingham)
Process Barron (Pelham)
EBSCO Signs (Clanton)
O-Flex Group (Clanton)
The event demonstrated that through collaboration and community support, major issues like workforce development, education, and employment can be addressed incrementally through cooperative efforts. Bill Connor, President and CEO of America’s First Federal Credit Union and 2019 Shelby Chamber Chairman commented, “The Shelby Chamber is proud to be supporting the growth of apprenticeships in our region. Innovative approaches are needed to close the skills gap and we believe apprenticeships can be an employer-led solution to this issue.”