The Partnership hopes to mimic success of other counties

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

&uot;We had a lot of people going in different directions who are now singing from the same hymnal,&uot; said Blake Robbins, an official with the Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.

Robbins, along with other Morgan County leaders, spoke to a group of Shelby County officials recently about how their county had improved cooperation between educators and business


A committee of The Partnership, a group with a five-year plan hoping to unite Shelby County’s many government, civic and business entities, took a field trip recently to see how Morgan and Madison counties are succeeding with similar goals.

About a dozen members of the The Partnership’s Workforce Development committee along with a few officials from Shelby County Schools traveled to Decatur to meet with leaders from the two counties.

The Partnership, formed in May of this year, was developed under the leadership of the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce. The group has five initiatives, to serve as a focal point for information and action dealing with planning and development, transportation, workforce development/education, government affairs, and strategic business development.

The Partnership, with the help of local leaders, has raised about $950,000 to be used toward the initiatives. The group’s goal is to raise $1.25 million.

Morgan County

At the Decatur/Morgan County chamber, members of a countywide workforce development committee told how they have greatly improved the local workforce by focusing education on supplying local companies with quality workers.

They also touted the successful &uot;tri-county&uot; relationship they have built with neighboring counties, Limestone, and Lawrence, who have commuters working in Morgan County

Tim Woodard, a training supervisor with BP Inc. in Decatur, said their committee did extensive surveys of some 600 K-12 students, 400 teachers and school officials.

The findings showed students were most effected in career choices by their parents, who, for the most part, want them to attend a four-year college.

Woodard said the local leaders then interviewed area businesses as to their greatest workforce needs. Their response, he said, was quality employees with technical experience who possessed mathematics and teamwork skills.

The leaders decided the county’s K-12 education needed to be fine-tuned to meet those workforce needs.

The committee then had a &uot;Come to Jesus talk,&uot; he said, with the local technical school in Decatur, Calhoun Community College, which, he said, was not adequately meeting the community’s workforce needs.

&uot;My idea of a technical college when I was in school was a woodshop where you learned how to weld,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s amazing because that, many times, is still the case (among students) today.&uot;

But that is a misrepresentation, he said.

&uot;A technology career is a great career that

many times means $100,000 a year with a million dollar retirement,&uot; he said.

Woodard pointed to their polling which showed that in Decatur, 70 percent of the students said they would attend a four-year college.

Statistics, he said, show half of those students will drop out their freshman year and only 20 to 30 percent who remain in school and graduate.

That is why county education leaders decided to start teaching students that learning technical skills would offer them the opportunity to gain a quality career, he said.

&uot;To me, the relationship between (local) businesses and industries with education is critical,&uot; he said. &uot;We need Calhoun Community College directly involved.&uot;

Madison County

The Shelby County group then traveled to the Calhoun Community College to meet with a leader of Madison County’s local workforce development committee, Melody Whitten of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

Whitten touted the county’s School-To-Career program, which won a national award in 2000. School-To-Career programs in Alabama are funded by the Alabama Department of Economic Community Affairs.

She said the group, like Morgan County’s committee, surveyed local students, educators and businesses to access area needs.

As a part of the School-To-Career program, she said educators developed a video series for first through sixth graders which showed students how they could one day join the region’s workforce in careers like healthcare, construction and information technology.

They too, she said, focus on teaching students the importance of &uot;truckers and plumbers,&uot; trades which are taught at Madison County Technical School as well as the county’s secondary schools.

&uot;It’s a plan B mentality,&uot; she said. &uot;We must convince mommy and daddy that if their kids don’t go to college, there are other skills that are offered out there.&uot;

The county’s schools, she said, picks some 20 percent of high school juniors to job shadow.

&uot;We can’t take them all. We don’t want to take the kid who has three-full-scholarship offers. That kid has it figured out,&uot; she said. &uot;We want the kid that doesn’t have a clue what they want to do in life.&uot;

She said since initiating the School-To-Career program, a system-wide survey of students involved shows 40 percent of students who job shadowed changed their curriculum because of their experience.

&uot;For juniors to change their courses, that’s very strong &045; that shows we are having a major impact,&uot; she said.

Reaction from Shelby County

LeAnn Rigney, a job resource specialist with the Shelby County Board of Education and Greater Shelby County Chamber, said it was beneficial for local officials to see how other counties achieve success in workforce development.

Part of her daily job, like Whitten’s, is to coordinate Workforce Development programs like School to Career and the Focus Program,

which is similar to the Launch Program in

Morgan County.

&uot;It was a good way for (business and education leaders) to make the connection to what we’re doing here in Shelby County &045; to see other counties are working on workforce development as well,&uot; she said. &uot;I hope the business people were motivated by what they saw.&uot;

Paul Rogers of The Bank in Birmingham,

is vice-chairman of Shelby County’s Workforce Development committee.

&uot;What stood out to me was that when you think about economic development, you have to think about workforce development. They are just critical twins,&uot; he said. &uot;Not everything we saw will apply here, but it was a very beneficial experience.&uot;

Rogers said the local Workforce Development committee will meet in late August to compare what Shelby County is doing with other counties.

&uot;A lot of people, I think, will be shocked to know how much Shelby County is already doing in this area,&uot; he said.

&uot;You hear all the junk about Birmingham and the neighboring communities and the lack of cooperation, but the business community here is coming together to find solutions with government.&uot;