Since Gadsden State Community College announced on July 28 that its Advanced Manufacturing Center construction project is officially underway, there has been unity among officials on the impact it will have on the community — substantial.
“This facility will have the ability to increase training capacity by modernizing our facilities and creating a center for all paths of education that walk through our doors,” Dr. Alan Smith, GSCC’s dean of workforce development, said at the announcement. “This will be a game-changer in the workforce and economic development for years to come.”
One of the center’s biggest impacts will be on career technology education — not only for Gadsden State, but for Etowah County Schools through their partnership that will begin once construction is completed.
“We will be busing students to the new center as part of the partnership agreement we made when Dr. Smith started applying for grants to make this happen,” said Superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby, ECS superintendent, explained. “We can provide this training within our facilities to a certain degree, but this partnership with Gadsden State will amplify what we are trying to do already.”
Cosby says that there are currently 474 students involved with the trade school program within the system, alongside a “continuously changing” number of students involved with the dual enrollment program at the college. He expects those numbers to increase upon the center’s completion.
He believes the center will provide “new opportunities” for students when it comes to a career tech education, allowing them to go onto a college campus in a “state of the art facility” to learn the latest technologies.
“It also allows our kids the opportunity to earn high school and college credit at the same time,” Cosby added. “Our hope is that these kids will be able to get both their high school diploma and their college degrees simultaneously, allowing them to quickly enter the workforce if they choose to go that route.”
GSCC President Dr. Kathy Murphy also believes that the center will increase enrollment rates at the college across the board. Currently, the college has 1,081 students involved with the workforce development programs, with plans to increase thanks to the center.
“Anytime you can bring students on campus and put them in a fabulous facility, it just has to entice students,” she said. “We want to excite students by letting them come into a state-of-the-art building with that modern technology and aesthetic to learn about these trades and be involved.”
Another key change the center will bring for career tech education is the curriculum that will be shaped on a regional basis. Smith and educators within the department will work to develop a plan that helps address community needs, while also maintaining and increasing the quality of the education their students receive.
“Based on the feedback from our community partners, we chose to focus on the jobs currently in high demand with high wages for our facility, which includes things such as precision machinery and robotics,” Smith said. “However, everything we are adding is removable and (we) have room for expansion in the future if the job market needs change over the next few years or in generations to come.”
Murphy added, “Dean Smith did his homework to determine the wants and needs of our stakeholders. So not only do we have this facility with quality instructors, we will literally be offering the things our community’s business and industry needs.”
Shifting K-12 curriculum?
Cosby said there are plans to shift the curriculum within the K-12 market to also help with Gadsden State’s initiatives and some of the constantly changing job market trends.
“When it comes to development, we try to look at programs that there is a need for not just in Etowah County, but the immediate region around us,” he said. “We look and get a gauge as to how we can expand our current programs and add new ones as we move into this over the next couple of years.”
GSCC and ECS also hope this will help with their initiatives in fostering interest in career tech education, allowing them to build towards the end goal of a meaningful career within their field of study.
“We try to impart on our students that there are many ways to earn a living, and we want them to find what’s best for their skills so that they can get their initial and ongoing training through us and Gadsden State,” Cosby said. with the end result in them finding meaningful employment from the education they receive.”
Smith added, “We found that by getting students involved early in their high school careers, it increases their confidence and causes them to progress and graduate three times faster than those not involved.”
He said the facility will also help get people into the workforce quickly by allowing displaced workers to learn new skills and reevaluate their credentials quickly.
“We often find that when workers are displaced, such as the closure of the Goodyear plant, that those existing workers do not have time to come back for two years,” Smith said. “So, we want to work towards getting them a credential in a boot camp styled method, which will add value to them and ultimately increase their salary.”
Murphy said the facility could also be used to foster interest with other community members outside of the student population.
“We want to be able to host weekend conferences for groups such as Women in Welding and organizations like them,” she said. “There’s not a lot of women working in these fields, and we want to be able to encourage them to seek out these opportunities.”
Ultimately, the center aims to recruit new employers to the area by constantly evolving to meet the community’s workforce needs, and keeping students in the region after graduation. It’s something that inspired the center’s creation to begin with, alongside the ASPIRE 2030 plan from the Alabama Community College System.
“They will be able to stay here and work in our existing industries based on the high demand we have not only here, but within the 50-mile radius,” Smith said. “We feel like we are tracking really well in the right direction, especially when it comes to complying with the APSIRE 2030 plan in the next five to 10 years.”
“It’s just wins all around, especially since we are going to be able to provide the things our community is after and needs,” Murphy said.