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By Chad Fell
Senior Reporter

DOUBLE SPRINGS—Bridging the gap between technical education and economic development is vital for a future steady work force, and figures do not lie when it comes to how the number of needed skilled workers are affected by the high drop out rate.

Grady Batchelor, president of the Industrial Development Authority of Winston County Alabama and chairman of the Governor’s Regional Work Force Development Council, gave a special presentation full of hard facts and figures to members of the Winston County Technical Center Advisory Council at their Monday, Oct. 26 meeting.

“I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as luck when it comes to people getting jobs and businesses and industries locating in a particular place,” Batchelor told a room full of advisory council members at First National Bank, Highway 278 during the luncheon meeting.

He referred to a statement made by Earl Nightingale that when opportunity comes along, a community or area should be prepared for that.  Career technical education, Batchelor noted, was key in keeping a sustainable economy.

Until recently, however, the public perceived they had a choice of either technical or main street education, Batchelor said, explaining it was basically impossible for those taking career tech courses to receive an advanced diploma and vice versa.  “That really concerned me because I had a son a couple of years ago who graduated.  I was very proud of him.  He graduated valedictorian, but he left able to do a lot of math, science and different things…I also realized he left school without really no skills, to be able to really get a job,” he said.

 The “either or” of technical and main stream education changed this year, meaning students in either area can earn the advanced diploma.  “I think it’s incredible, because it is important we make sure we do everything in the school system to make it work optimally,” Batchelor said.

Batchelor then presented numbers that tell the story—that 75 to 80 percent of all high tech, high demand, high paying jobs in the next 10 to 15 years will require two plus years of education –technical skill education in particular beyond a high school diploma.

“Now, if  you have no technical education going out of high school, then you are already behind,” Batchelor said.

Statistics indicate that 40 percent of all students nation-wide drop out of school.  Governors, he added, across all states, met and agreed to use the same common standards to address these drop out rates.  Alabama is in line with other states in the drop out rate, he said.

Batchelor told the audience that one-third of all drop outs are dropping out by the ninth grade.  “The number that really got me was 92 percent of all technical education program participants graduate,” he noted, “while 40 percent of the people were dropping out before they reach the technical education courses.”

He noted the best experience was hands-on or by doing a particular project, noting when he took operations production management in graduate school, his experience came from working as a Pizza Hut delivery person then as supervisor then management.  He now teaches OP management courses, teaching students, basically, how to make pizza.  The process works, said Batchelor.  “They can graduate, because you can engage them,” he said.

The average of today’s community college students is 27-29.  This means from the time students graduate at 18 or drop out at 15 or 16, they are—statistics indicated—27 to 29 before they pursue technical education to be able to get into a wage earning job.

“That is horrendous for us in terms of an economy.  That’s horrendous for us in terms of a nation, because that means we lost people for almost 11 years before they are productive citizens in society,” Batchelor stressed.

A graduate at 18 years of age, plus one day out of school can make a productive citizen thanks to programs offered through technical education.  Therefore, a more positive stat indicated 100 percent of all career/technical education and advanced diploma students will have the capacity to get two years of college paid by the state, if engaged in both advanced and technical courses.

The meeting then shifted the focus toward the audience helping Batchelor bridge the gap between technical education and the future of the county’s economic development.

The county is poised for great achievements to keep the work force locally through ongoing site development of Winston County’s mega industrial park site located off Highway 13 about three miles from Lynn and six miles from Corridor X or the future Interstate 22 which will connect Memphis, Tenn. with Birmingham directly impacting six northwest Alabama counties around its perimeter, such as Winston, Marion, Walker, Lamar, and Fayette.

As chairman of the Governor’s Work Force Development Council, Batchelor sees potential for mega future economic growth due to I-22, with 26 available industrial buildings, 25 available industrial sites, 15 available industrial parks and competitive site location incentives.

Winston County, with a 25, 459 population according to the 2010 Census, has 9, 197 in labor force, 7,716 employed, 1,481 unemployed, with an unemployment rate around 16 percent.  A chart provided the audience showed the county’s available labor is 1,676.  It was noted the county’s population according to the Census 10 years ago (1990) showed 22,053.

The development of I-22 through northwest Alabama significantly increases the marketability for expansion of industrial and distribution related projects with the interstate opening a new corridor for development and transportation for these services, Batchelor indicated.

This all means, Batchelor said, technical education is important more than ever to train students for the related and needed jobs in work force and economic development.

“What happens after school?” Batchelor asked, pointing to the problems affecting work force and economic development.  Students go after school to work, welfare or prison. “This is key, because if the kids, one-third of them, are leaving by ninth grade, they don’t have enough education to become productive in this country to make a decent wage,” Batchelor stressed.  “It is getting to where with a high school diploma alone, it is not enough to be able to make a decent wage.”

 Today, math, science and technology are required for jobs instead of being preferred.  Also today, a two year degree is required in cyber technology to get a related job, but jobs are not there for those without a diploma, according to Batchelor.

 The equation is career technical education plus advanced courses equal work force development opportunities, according to Batchelor.

 “Ultimately, the work force is the number one factor around this country…in order to be able to draw economic development into an area,” he said.

 Currently, the mega industrial park site boasts 818 acres which is the largest site receiving AdvantageSite designation in the state, meaning it is being advertised as a location for mega industrial growth,  Two lots have been developed, with plans underway to develop two more lots and have landscaping around a lake area to showcase the park from Highway 13 traffic.

 “We have a work force shortage in this country,” Batchelor noted.  “On top of that, we have a training work force shortage in this country.  When the Japanese and German people come to this country to look at bringing businesses, they gave us a list of what trained work force means.  They don’t consider exiting school with just a high school diploma.  They want people with technical skills.”

However, a high number of graduates are coming out with no jobs, and this was expressed by several members of the advisory council in the audience.  “If you walk out of that college door and you don’t have a job, it’s all because our jobs are leaving here,” one advisory council member stated.

The audience comprised of technical advisory members are key influencers, very aware of the technical programs but should o more in promoting what is offered locally to outside the area, Batchelor informed.

Although the state as a whole has been plagued by work force development issues in the downed economic times, a couple of places, such as Huntsville, are not.  The mission is to partner with such places to bring related jobs closer to home, Batchelor indicated.

The Winston County Technical Center combined with the Haleyville Center of Technology give opportunities for students to have skills needed for the jobs required for the mega industrial park sites and other jobs adding to work force development.  “In terms of work force development, we need skilled people,” said Batchelor.

Shandy Porter, director of the W.C. Technical Center, noted the role of career technical education is to be involved in work force development.”Our students, our role is one to train them, and after we train them, they have to have a place to work,” Porter said.  “That’s why the Winston County industrial park is so vital.  Our goal is to have a place for them to work and have a place for them to work here in Winston County.”

“Of the jobs we’re trying to recruit, those people will need technical skills that the general public does not have at the present,” added Batchelor, “So career technical education helps to shape the future of what we can recruit.”

“We want these students to come home and provide a tax base for Winston County,” said Porter.

Reprinted with permission of the Northwest Alabamian.

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