By Marlee Moore
A streamlined workforce development program is helping potential truck drivers, heavy equipment operators, meat cutters and food-and-beverage workers quickly earn certifications or licenses — for free.
The Alabama Community College System (ACCS) Skills for Success program launched in early 2022 and pinpoints specific skills workers need to fill available jobs, said Enterprise State Community College’s (ESCC) Leigh Shiver.
“Every program we do is backed by industry,” said Shiver, the director of workforce development. “It’s vetted by the people who will be hiring. If they’re nontraditional or traditional students, what training can we provide them to get that livable wage? And not just through a job — but in a career.”
Skills for Success courses are offered at community colleges across the state free of cost, thanks to an appropriation from the Alabama Legislature.
For most courses, students complete a few weeks of online training before several days of in-person work. Their official state exam follows.
ESCC is zeroing in on heavy equipment training and held its second skid steer course in April with instructor Tim Williams. The long-time heavy equipment operator offered encouragement to his class of eight through the two-day, 16-hour hands-on training.
“Ease on up, there you go,” he said to a student and first-time operator attempting to pack a dirt ramp.
Four piles of dirt and four skid steers in an open field offered students space to learn from Williams and each other. While half of Williams’ students were new to operating equipment, the other half were flush with experience but lacked official certifications.
“I’m here to verify they know how to steer to the left, steer to the right, back up, pull up, pick up a load and dump it,” he said. “Here, they really get two days’ worth of actual driving. We call it ‘seat time.’ Nothing teaches you better than seat time.
“I can’t teach them all the techniques, but they’re getting some techniques and a lot of experience,” Williams added.
An hour west of Enterprise, father-son duo Heath and Brady Kilcrease benefited from Skills for Success, too, through CDL training.
The Covington County poultry farmers could legally drive big trucks for their own farm in a 180-mile radius of their operation but wanted to cover their bases with a state-issued license.
“You can never have enough skills in life,” said Heath, 46. “The more you learn, the more options you have.”
Before hearing about Skills for Success, their only option was to spend six weeks at an in-person class, a near-impossible commitment with four egg houses.
Instead, the free CDL training at Lurleen B. Wallace (LBW) Community College in Andalusia streamlined training and offered insights to ensure truck and road safety.
After completing online coursework at his pace, Heath spent a week in Andalusia on an obstacle course similar to the official Department of Transportation (DOT) test, which paid off when he took the CDL exam afterward.
“Once I did it with the instructor at LBW, it made the test part at the DOT easier,” said Heath, whose son signed up for the course after his father finished. “Overall, it was a really great experience. It saves you a lot of time going through LBW.”