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Community college presidents: Job training enhanced if education construction process streamlined

Two community college presidents say critical workforce development programs will be enhanced if a proposal to streamline the education construction process is approved by the Alabama State Senate.

In addition to saving what an Alabama lawmaker estimates will be “millions” of taxpayer dollars, the presidents of Bevill State Community College and Jefferson State Community College say the plan will allow their schools to more quickly respond to the job training needs of Alabama industry.

State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) has sponsored legislation which allows school systems and community colleges to locally control construction projects.

Under current Alabama law, the State Department of Finance’s Division of Construction Management in Montgomery maintains oversight responsibilities for construction projects at K-12 schools and local community colleges.

Shifting oversight from a state agency to a more localized level will not only result in cost savings but also faster completion times, according to supporters of the plan.

“Time can be a very valuable resource when you are working to achieve a quick turnaround on a training program for business and industry,” Joel Hagood, president of Bevill State Community College, explained to Yellowhammer News.

Hagood believes the flexibility provided by construction directly overseen by the community college system is essential to carrying out its workforce development mission.

“Rapid response to the needs of business and industry is vital for workforce training,” he asserted. “If Bevill State is unable to meet the training needs for industry in a timely manner, they will find other avenues to obtain that training.”

Hagood outlined that the need to quickly get trained workers employment-ready helped drive the creation of Bevill’s Workforce Solutions Rapid Training Center in Jasper. The college is establishing a similar center at its Hamilton campus.

RELATED: Alabama’s Bevill State HVAC Fast Track Program graduates students

He pointed out that community colleges currently have to “wait in line” for approval behind all projects in the state which go through the Division of Construction Management.

Removing that extra layer of red tape “would expedite this process for the schools, facilitating a more rapid response for our students’ needs and industry demand,” concluded Hagood.

Emphasizing that responsiveness to the workforce development needs of business and industry is a “primary mission” of Alabama’s community colleges, Keith Brown, president of Jefferson State Community College, said his school is continually assessing and adjusting its job training programs.

“Many times, these programmatic adjustments require renovating or repurposing space to accommodate new equipment, new technology or an overall change in purpose of the facility,” Brown remarked.

This approach was placed into action when Jefferson State implemented its Heavy Equipment Operator Program, which the school was able to customize to meet an urgent industry need.

“The Heavy Equipment Operator program at Jefferson State is a prime example of identifying a need and working with industry to address it in a timely manner through a short-term training solution yielding qualified, certified students who are ready to work on day one,” said Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker.

Bevill State has encountered a similar need to upgrade facilities in order to meet an industry demand, according to Hagood.

“The longwall expansion project at Bevill State’s Mine Technology Program is a perfect example of an addition that was required to meet industry needs,” he noted. “Longwall mining is a highly productive coal mining technique. The expansion of the mine training center will enable all Underground New Miner Trainees to have a greater understanding of the extraction of the coal process from not only a continuous miner section but longwall mining as well. Miners will be shown the safest way to handle all aspects of tasks assigned.”

From Brown’s perspective, no one is better positioned to understand all the demands of a job training curriculum than the community colleges, themselves.

“The ACCS Board of Trustees is well versed in the mission of the Alabama Community College System and has a greater awareness of its ever-changing facility needs,” elaborated Brown. “Vesting oversight of the System’s construction efforts with the ACCS Board of Trustees would provide a narrower focus than the current structure and allow increased prioritization of the System’s projects. This could lead to shorter durations on projects and ultimately provide an increased response time to our business and industry partners.”

RELATED: ‘Saving taxpayers millions of dollars’: Alabama lawmaker wants to cut red tape for local school construction

With 24 main campuses and 32 satellite campuses located across Alabama, Ledbetter has set out to remove what he views as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy in the construction process.

“Taking the bureaucracy out of that will end up saving taxpayers millions of dollars,” he stated.

The proposal includes provisions requiring all projects meet applicable safety requirements and building codes.

The bill has passed the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. It now awaits approval from the full Senate.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

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