ACCS targets expansion of ‘earn and learn’ job-training programs

In cooperation with business and industry partners, the Alabama Community College System aims to expand innovative “earn and learn” training programs that combine on-the-job experience and classroom learning as a fast-track approach to preparing more skilled workers for companies across the state.

A recent example of such a program for technical training is “Mechatronics,” developed in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) to meet the company’s need for highly skilled team members at its Alabama plant. The program functions through a partnership between MBUSI, Shelton State Community College, AIDT and the University of Alabama. The program is widely recognized as a model and has been hailed by workforce development experts.

“We want to make the Mercedes ‘earn and learn’ approach available to any two-year college that wants to work with a manufacturer in this kind of partnership,” ACCS Chancellor Mark Heinrich said. “Forging technical training partnerships is a very productive way for the system to assist Alabama businesses that count on us to deliver a capable workforce.”

The System is seeking additional funding to replicate the successful “Mechatronics” model as a budget priority for the upcoming fiscal year. Similar “earn and learn” programs are in place with Bell Helicopter and ST Aerospace.

Heinrich, formerly the president of Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, was one of the architects of the “Mechatronics” program, which gives students classroom instruction on mechanics, electronics and other systems and hands-on experience in one of the world’s most advanced auto assembly plants.

Students accepted into the program receive a scholarship to cover tuition and fees, and they are paid $14.50 an hour for their work on the shop floor. Of the students who successfully complete the rigorous program at Shelton State, the top 75 percent earn a full-time production job at the Mercedes plant. Those not hired by the automaker have skills that are in demand at other locations throughout the state.

“With thousands of skilled workers in Alabama just a few years away from retirement, innovative training programs are urgently needed,” Heinrich said. “With this approach, the company immediately gets a good worker, and an ACCS college provides valuable training for that student. This kind of customized program has a great future as employers’ needs evolve in a global economy.”

The System also is seeking additional funding to support an expansion of a program that provides scholarships to high school students enrolled in career and technical courses at an ACCS college, as well as funding to launch a training fund that would assist existing and expanding businesses across the state.