‘Honor in working with your hands:’ Students tour skilled labor industries

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – A group of Shelby County Schools Career Technical Education Program let out audible gasps when they heard the salaries of some of the technicians working at Thompson Tractor’s location in Alabaster’s Shelby West Corporate Park.

“We have technicians who make over $100,000 a year here,” said the branch’s Service Manager Johnny Peterman. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work, but you can make good money. You do not have to go to college to have a good job. There’s no shame in working with your hands.”

The 30 CTEC students were among 90 students from the Shelby County, Alabaster and Pelham school systems who took part in Manufacturing Day on Oct. 3 sponsored by the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and 58 Inc. to give students a real-world look at the jobs available in skilled labor.

During the event, the about 90 students toured Thompson Tractor, SEPCO and Hibbett Sports in the Shelby West Corporate Park, and attended demonstrations from the Alabama Community College System Manufacturing Skill Standards Council Program.

While at Alabaster Thompson Tractor branch, which opened in 2007, the students toured the company’s campus, which includes a sales department, parts, service and rental divisions, and got a chance to see employees in action.

Thompson Tractor and the other companies in the tour encouraged the kids to pursue jobs in skilled labor, as there currently is a significant need for skilled employees in the workforce.

“There has been a huge skill gap in the United States and in Alabama, and high schools for decades have been ignoring that,” said Thompson Tractor’s Manager of Training Ashley Self. “These are kids who are in the middle: They aren’t going to college, but they are good students and they have a high work ethic.

Through events like this, we want to show them there are opportunities out there to make a great living and have a great career in the skilled trades without going to college,” Self added. “There’s honor in working with your hands.”

Keyla Handley with the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and Yvonne Murray with 58 Inc. said the day was intended to show students exactly what they could be doing after graduation if they continue to work hard toward their goals.

“It lets them hear about the skills they can be working on now,” Handley said. “The whole purpose is to demonstrate to the students that there are great careers out there.”

“In the case of Hibbett Sports, it shows them that it’s so much more than just moving boxes. There are so different options,” Murray added. “It shows them that if they work hard, they will be rewarded for it.”