With the regional automotive industry continuing to grow, Alabama Automotive Manufacturers’ Association Executive Director Lew Drummond is urging local industry and education leaders to join forces for more streamlined training programs.

Drummond was the guest speaker at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly  luncheon, and discussed the changing dynamics of the automotive industry and its relationship to the local workforce. He noted one of the biggest priorities facing government and education leaders is ensuring the state provides a trained, capable workforce for new and expanding industry.

“We’ve had a lot of success in the state, especially in automotive industry, but there are still some regrets and issues that need to be worked on very quickly,” he said. “We have to have a good workforce, because any potential automotive assembler, or tier-1, -2 or -3 supplier, is going to be looking closely at a potential site to see if they can get a workforce there.”

If the state doesn’t make a bigger push into training, Drummond said he worries Alabama could start to potentially lose jobs and plants to Mexico and other areas.

“We’ve got to shift the focus back to workforce development, and the Governor has to demonstrate when he goes on recruiting missions, that wherever they locate — people want good infrastructure and the right site — but also a good workforce,” he said. “That’s not just the training, either, but also the soft skills.”

Drummond said he believes a focus on “soft skills” such as timeliness and team work could actually be one area that Alabama could excel, if potential workers could be trained on the traits required to be good, overall employees.

“In addition to manufacturing and electronic skills, we’ve got to have the ‘soft’ skills, the human skills. We have to step up the game,” he said.

The semester system typically employed by colleges can also create headaches for training, Drummond said, and he encouraged more experimentation with shorter training courses along with day-and-night sessions.

“We’re locked into the semester system, and plants and manufacturers don’t appreciate that,” he said. “They want short skills, quick training, because they run plants today. We need to start looking at new models, because I don’t think the production coming out of our system is going to be adequate to provide the workforce we need.”

Drummond also noted more hands-on training is needed to show students the real-world implementation of those engineering skills.

“You’ve got to make education relevant to what students are interested in,” he said. “Take a science class and make it relevant to what that person wants to do when they leave school, and I think they'll be a lot more interested. What we teach has to be relevant to what they want to be in, whether its music, truck driving or a welder.”

Drummond said he’s encouraged by new initiatives at the state level to promote career tech in high school and college, and believes a unique approach is what’s needed to keep the state in a position to succeed in the future.

“Without  a skilled workforce, what’s the point? Why would an industry come to Alabama, or expand in Alabama?,” he said. “But, I believe if we continue to work together and involve business in everything we do, that plan will help get us out of this hole.”

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.

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