HUNTSVILLE — U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Thursday went on a flurry of tours highlighting north Alabama’s high-tech boom, saying the area’s success would not be possible without higher education and industry stakeholders working together.
After stops at Calhoun Community College’s Decatur campus and Huntsville’s ADTRAN, Acosta participated in a roundtable discussion about apprenticeships and manufacturing with senior leaders from Dynetics.
He then took a tour of the manufacturing division at Dynetics Technical Solutions, with the Trump cabinet official leaving more than impressed.
At a press conference afterward, he touched on getting rid of the “stigma” of hands-on jobs that require technical training rather than a four-year degree, something that Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame has made a personal mission.
Acosta emphasized that, backed by his tour just minutes earlier, modern manufacturing jobs are anything but “dirty.” He marveled at the state-of-the-art, high-tech facilities at Dynetics, which produces advanced technologies and products in industries that include defense and aerospace.
“What they are producing is precise,” Acosta explained. “And they’re not just running machines, they’re programming machines. We need to realize that what we think of as manufacturing is not what manufacturing is today.”
A big reason why Dynetics has been able to become an international industry leader is their own workforce development efforts.
Dynetics CEO David King outlined that the company’s “rich history of science and innovation” is driven by its employees.
Since being founded in Huntsville in 1974, Dynetics has grown to employ over 2,000 people across ten different states.
“The words manufacturing and Dynetics are becoming more synonymous with each day,” King said. “We provide solutions to address our nation’s most challenging advanced missions.”
In the precision machining and fabrication center that Acosta toured, King advised that Dynetics employs “more than 130 highly skilled personnel.”
Additionally, in their newly opened Gilbert Advanced Manufacturing Facility in Huntsville, Dynetics employs another 200 employees, all also of high skill and training — a core point of emphasis at the company.
Dynetics has achieved their level of success by offering their employees more and more ways to achieve a lofty degree of education, skill and training.
For example, they are currently conducting a summer internship program featuring 120 interns from 30 different colleges and universities. These interns get unique hands-on experience, often coming back to work at the company upon graduation with a head start.
“We’ve added more than 600 employees to Dynetics in the last three years,” King outlined. “And we take training and education very seriously. We’ve had over 500 employees be a part of ‘Dynetics University,’ which is an internal education movement that we have been doing for more than 30 years, where folks from Dynetics teach other folks here at Dynetics.”
“Last year, more than 2,000 employees participated in some other type of training, as well,” he continued. “This is tremendous for our company.”
While Dynetics is on the cutting edge of technology, education and training, the company wants to do even more. Which is why, on Thursday, King signed the Trump administration’s “Pledge to America’s Workers,” which is a commitment to expand programs that educate, train and re-skill our nation’s workers from high-school age to near-retirement.
Dynetics, King said, is pledging to create “enhanced career opportunities for 700 individuals over the next five years” alone.
“Dynetics is definitely growing,” he said, before affirming that the company’s pledge is to hire “700 new employees,” many of whom would be in Alabama.
— Secretary Acosta (@SecretaryAcosta) June 27, 2019
Speaking after King, Acosta thanked Dynetics for signing the important pledge.
“As I was walking around Dynetics today, I started talking to several employees. And so many individuals started out coming from tech schools, and then they had an opportunity to learn. And to progress along the career track, because Dynetics did not just give them a job. They gave them learning opportunities,” the labor secretary lauded.
“I met a young man who started from a tech school who’s now a manager of an entire department,” Acosta said. “I met another individual who’s coding, and again, he started from a tech school. And he is now running incredibly advanced machinery.”
He then broke down exactly what Dynetics’ story proves and what others can learn from their model of success.
“So the message is this: there are so many career paths available,” Acosta explained. “College for some. Apprenticeships for others.”
He hailed “employers that recognize talent and empower individuals by providing them educational and skill opportunities.”
‘Cooperation’ between industry, education key to north Alabama’s continued growth
Acosta’s visit came at a time when 7.4 million jobs are available across America. In Alabama, just like the rest of the nation, the biggest problem in this high-performing economy is that employers cannot find enough qualified workers to fill available positions and help grow their companies.
To address this, the Trump and Ivey administrations are both being aggressive in their workforce development efforts.
On the federal level, Acosta said that grants are being handed out to state community college systems to bolster local programs.
For example, the U.S. Department of Labor in recent days announced that the Alabama Community College System was being awarded $12 million to expand apprenticeships.
However, education and industry also need to work hand-in-hand, Acosta stressed to Yellowhammer News on Thursday.
“Northern Alabama’s manufacturing base is growing rapidly — faster than Alabama and faster than the nation’s manufacturing is,” he said. “Every year about 2,300 individuals are hired into advanced manufacturing in Alabama. And those career tracks pay great… for that $12 million investment, which is being matched by industry in the private sector to the tune of more than $4 million, the community college system has pledged to create an additional 5,000 apprenticeship opportunities in Alabama. So, I thank Dynetics for what its doing, I thank the community college system for what it’s doing, and, most importantly, we need to keep this up.”
As the economy continues to grow, so too will the need for more skilled workers.
“What we have seen that is most successful is when companies and educational partners come together,” Acosta advised. “And we’ve seen this in north Alabama in the apprenticeship programs. We’re seeing this at Dynetics and their commitment to educate their workforce. Education needs to work with business so that it focuses on the skills that are being demanded by the workforce. It has to be a partnership.”
Unfortunately, the American education system has not necessarily changed with the times across the nation to accommodate this need.
Alabama, under Governor Kay Ivey’s administration, has been trying to change this in pre-k — 12. Additionally, industry stakeholders such as AlabamaWorks continue to move the state’s workforce development efforts forward at impressive rates. And, luckily for the Yellowhammer State, the state’s four-year higher education institutions and community college system have been leaders in working alongside industry instead of telling industry what it should be doing. The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is a prime example of this in north Alabama.
“So much of business has changed, so much of the way we interact with the world has changed with [increased technology],” Acosta remarked. “But something that hasn’t really changed is education. We still view education as a system where we learn and then we stop learning and we start working. And that doesn’t work. It needs to be a continuous burning and learning process. Where we continue learning on the job, continue acquiring skills to move up that career ladder and to learn the new technologies that are being used in places like Dynetics.”
Asked to pick one word to summarize what he witnessed on his north Alabama visit, Acosta immediately responded, “Cooperation.”
“Because the Huntsville area is growing so quickly, businesses have to… partner with the community college and educational system. And if they were not, the growth would not be happening,” he concluded. “Companies choose a city that has an educated, ready-and-able workforce. And the cooperation I have seen between the educational systems and their business partners here is spectacular.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn