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Alabama Community Colleges Could Gain Oversight of Construction Training

Thu April 22, 2021 - Southeast Edition
Yellowhammer News

A pair of Alabama community college presidents believe that critical workforce development programs could be enhanced if a State Senate proposal to streamline the education construction process is approved.

The leaders of Bevill State Community College, based in Jasper, and Birmingham's Jefferson State Community College recently told Yellowhammer News that the plan will allow their schools to respond to the job training needs of Alabama industry more quickly.

Not inconsequentially, one Alabama lawmaker believes the effort will save millions in taxpayer dollars. State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter from Rainsville has sponsored legislation that would allow school systems and community colleges to locally control construction projects.

Currently, as dictated by state law, the Alabama Department of Finance's Division of Construction Management maintains oversight for all construction projects at K-12 schools and local community colleges.

Proponents of the legislation say that moving that oversight from a state agency to a more localized level will not only result in cost savings but also speed project completion times.

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

Hagood added that he 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 said 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 setting up a similar center at its Hamilton campus, Yellowhammer News reported.

State community colleges currently must "wait in line" for approval behind all other projects in Alabama which go through the Division of Construction Management, Hagood said. 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," he told the news outlet.

"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," remarked Keith Brown, president of Jefferson State Community College, while also emphasizing that responsiveness to the workforce development needs of business and industry is a "primary mission" of Alabama's community college system. This approach was placed into action when Brown's college 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," Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker commented to Yellowhammer News.

Bevill State has met a similar need to upgrade facilities 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 [coal] from not only a continuous miner section but longwall mining as well. Miners will be shown the safest way to handle all aspects of [the] tasks assigned."

From Jefferson State President Brown's perspective, no system is better positioned to understand all the demands of a job training curriculum than the community colleges themselves, he told Yellowhammer News.

With 24 main campuses and 32 satellite campuses located across Alabama, Rep. Ledbetter has set out to remove what he views as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy in the construction process, while also "saving taxpayers millions of dollars," he stated. The proposal includes provisions that ensure all projects meet applicable safety requirements and building codes.

Yellowhammer News reported that the bill has passed the Alabama House of Representatives, as well as the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. It now awaits approval from the full Senate.

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