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With unemployment at a record low and jobs continuing to flow into the state, Alabama will need an additional 500,000 skilled workers by 2025, and more than half of those jobs will require some level of education beyond high school. Fortunately for Cullman area students and businesses, the two public school systems and Wallace State Community College (WSCC) are working closely to prepare students for those jobs.
Strategic Training Programs
“Many of these middle skill jobs, which provide wages to support families and make up a significant sector of economic growth, require the training that community colleges, like Wallace State, provide. Wallace State plays a critical role in supporting local business and industry and economic development recruitment efforts,â€ says Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics.
“Everything we do is workforce development. We are preparing students for careers.”
A few of the programs offered are health care, non-credit training, dual enrollment and a university transfer program.
Karolewics says the college works closely with the business community to ensure students are receiving the specific skills businesses require. Each program of study has an advisory board of representatives working in the field. The college also partners directly with companies. Through these efforts and others, college representatives learn specifically what is needed to develop training to best meet the needs of local industry.
One example is Kubota, which selected Wallace State as a training partner and will be sending individuals from across the region to WSCC for training in diesel mechanics.
Ready for Work
Wallace State is also a partner in Cullman Area Workforce Solutions, which brings K-12 representatives, economic development organizations and other groups together to discuss and develop joint solutions to education and training needs.
“A good example of this would be the latest additions in the career tech programs of study,â€ says Mike Donaldson, career and technical education coordinator for Cullman City Schools (CCS). “Health science and teacher education have been added in the last few years. Not only are health care and education among the top employers in Cullman County, but they are also two industries currently suffering from worker shortages.”
Donaldson says career and technical education (CTE) programs form the base of the region’s workforce development efforts and help prepare students for college and careers.
“All CCS students will receive a credit in a Career Preparedness course prior to graduation. A major component of the course is academic planning and career development. In addition to Career Preparedness, students enrolled in CTE courses have the opportunity to explore specific careers within the program area,â€ Donaldson says.
Cullman County schools also offer students the opportunity to earn diplomas with CTE endorsements in areas such as business and marketing, health and human services, building systems technology, drafting and electronics and metals technology. In addition, the Cullman Area Technology Academy pairs Cullman County students with local businesses to give them hands-on training in preparation for careers after high school.
Wallace State also works closely with both the city and county school systems to introduce students to college and careers at an early age. The college has a robust dual enrollment partnership with area high schools to offer college credit classes to high school students.
“Our Fast Track for Industry, Fast Track Academy and Fine and Performing Arts Academy are dual enrollment opportunities where students take all classes at the high school and college level on our campus,â€ Karolewics says.
“Fast Track for Industry, a partnership with Cullman County Schools, includes a Cullman County facility on Wallace State’s campus. Students enrolled in fast track and dual enrollment do exceedingly well, and those who transfer to a university have collectively earned millions in scholarships. Each year, a number of students finish their associate degree requirements and participate in Wallace State’s graduation before they graduate from high school.”
High School & Beyond
Another important aspect of workforce and economic development is entrepreneurship. Students throughout the county are invited to participate in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), sponsored by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center. The program allows students over a 10-month period to develop a business plan, pitch their business idea to investors, receive mentorship by local business leaders and even legally register their business.