Bevill State and Alabama Power’s Workforce Development Partnership
Barely two weeks after Al Moore joined Bevill State in 2011, he received a call from a couple of his former Alabama Power co-workers. “Gosh, Al, we sure are sorry you’re gone,” they told him, “but do you think the College might be interested in partnering with Alabama Power on an employee training program?” As a matter of fact, the College was interested.
Moore, Bevill’s Dean for Career Technical Education, took the opportunity to then-President Anne McNutt—who told him, “Let’s make it happen.” Alabama Power had also considered a number of other two-year colleges, but chose to invest $5.3 million with Bevill State for a number of reasons. The Sumiton campus’s proximity to two power plants (Gorgas and Miller) was important. Not surprisingly, Moore’s reputation among his former co-workers also played a strong role in the decision.
A Strong Background In Education
“Before joining Bevill State,” says Al, “I was Southern Company’s Employee Development Coordinator when the company undertook the largest transformation in its business processes ever. I was tapped to develop curriculum for the work-management process that impacted everyone in Power Generation” — an estimated 6000 to 7000 employees.
That experience, and the thinking behind it, made for a perfect match between Al Moore and Bevill State. “I already had a background in education, including 2 ½ years at Jefferson State Community College, and I saw a great opportunity at Bevill State.” What ultimately attracted both Moore and Alabama Power to Bevill State was its emphasis on Workforce Development.
It’s Not Just About Producing Graduates
Southern Company’s Senior Professional in Human Resources Tom McNeal explains. “Some community colleges are focused only on educating and graduating students. When a school understands Workforce Development and its vital link to industry, they’re focused on producing good employees.”
Remember, McNeal continues, Alabama Power’s interest in partnering with Bevill State started with the need to train its employees — and the school already had a solid reputation at the company for consistently producing quality workers. “I talk to people at plants who’ve been with us 20 to 30 years,” Tom says, “and they tell me they were hired from Bevill State.”
A Win For Alabama Power
In addition to its need to replace roughly 100 skilled workers a month, Al explains, “Alabama Power wanted more credibility for its Apprenticeship Program,” giving its incumbent workforce the chance to gain new skills and advance their careers; and the opportunity for many to receive college credit.
A Win For Bevill State
Currently, the program focuses on two skill-sets: Electrical & Instrumentation, and Mechanical Maintenance. “We’d cross-referenced all of Alabama Power’s modules with our own curriculum, and we already knew the school didn’t need to add any courses to create the program. In the process, we added two new degree programs for Bevill State students.” That’s where the benefit for Bevill State, and its students, is especially sweet.
The newly re-developed Building 600 isn’t just for Alabama Power employees. Bevill State can also use the facility, and the programs offered there, for its students. And, in the process, produce even more attractive job candidates — not just for Alabama Power but for other companies, like Norfolk Southern, TVA or any industry. Al explains, “The same skills Alabama Power needs are also perfectly suited for a number of good positions with railroads.”
The Importance Of “Soft Skills”
And while Alabama Power needs candidates with proficiency in specific technical skills, Bevill State’s focus on “soft skills” which, McNeal and Moore will tell you, is what ultimately produces quality employees. The kind of skills, for instance, that make for good co-workers. You’d think it was obvious, says Al, “but so many people need to learn, for instance, that they have to show-up for work on time, stay on the job all day, and work as part of a team.”
Bevill’s program teaches those skills by placing students in a simulated work environment, Al continues, “so they’ll have a real sense of what it’s like working in the real world. When I was at Alabama Power, I saw it all too often: Young people who maybe came from tough backgrounds, and didn’t know how to deal with co-workers. A job at Alabama Power could be the best opportunity they’ll ever have to change their lives, and their families’ lives, but they throw it away with nonsense.”
A Second Win For Bevill State
In addition to the $5.3 million Alabama Power invested at Sumiton’s campus, the company also spent $750,000 upgrading equipment for the Machine Tool program that was relocated to the Jasper campus. A relocation which made perfect sense, Al notes, “since Bevill State was already working primarily with Walker County Schools and Jasper City Schools on the Machine Tool program.”
Not surprisingly, Moore is quick to share credit for the program’s remarkable success: “Leslie Cummings, Bevill’s Dean of Instruction, was instrumental in making sure the program was consistent with Alabama state policies for earning the necessary credits toward those degrees.”
A Group Effort
Equal credit, Moore continues, goes to Dean of Students Kim Ennis and AMTC Training Coordinator Ken Russell. As with any project of this magnitude, says Al, “there were a lot of hurdles we had to overcome,” and like so many other projects now underway in Walker County, “this was truly a public / private partnership at its best.”
And of course, Al notes, “I can’t say enough about the support we continue to receive from our new President, Larry Ferguson.” Alabama Power’s McNeal couldn’t agree more — noting that the program doesn’t just help students. It helps the region.
That’s Why It’s Called A Community College
Tom continues, “One thing Dr. Ferguson understands: A community college exists for the community. And when a school produces talent that is needed, the community is likelier to attract good industry. Without a skilled workforce, you just can’t attract industry. Bevill State has been a pleasure to work with. They’re set-up for good things to come.” And with folks like Dean Moore and Dr. Ferguson, he concludes, “it’ll only get better.”
Photos (top and center) by Al Blanton