AIDT training programs give Alabama advantage in industrial recruiting

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – In just about every corner of Alabama, AIDT, the state’s top-ranked job-training agency, is helping companies assemble workforces and upgrading worker skill sets.

AIDT training programs are preparing workers to build “Made-in-Alabama” products such as next-generation warships for the U.S. Navy and luxury automobiles sold around the globe. The agency is teaching them how to use robots on the factory floor. And it will help Airbus get the workers it needs to produce passenger jets in Alabama.

“They know what they are doing,” said Don Keeler, vice president of human resources at Austal USA, a rapidly expanding shipbuilder in Mobile. “They are good at it.”

AIDT training programs were one reason Alabama was selected in 2012 by Area Development  as having the top labor climate among the states. “Alabama’s top overall labor ranking is a direct result of its innovative Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) program, which provides a comprehensive work force management system for employers at no cost,” the publication said.

During 2012 alone, AIDT delivered recruitment, screening and training services for 115 companies, representing 23,000 new jobs in Alabama.

It is a key component of the state’s workforce development infrastructure, along with the Alabama Community College System, which offers more than 150 career technical programs.

“The State of Alabama is taking a leadership role in helping Alabamians create careers by teaching them new skills,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “That is the very best thing we can do, and I am proud of that. When you combine AIDT with the community college system, you have a very powerful engine for skills training.”

AIDT training programs have become a key advantage in Alabama’s efforts to recruit new businesses, particularly manufacturers. Job training offered by AIDT has been utilized as a competitive advantage in every major project recruitment effort since Mercedes-Benz announced its Alabama plant in 1993. Companies often cite AIDT training programs as a chief reason Alabama was selected for an expansion project.

Ed Castile, the agency’s executive director, said AIDT is ready when Alabama economic developers have a major project. The agency can help a company assemble a work force with screening and pre-employment training.

AIDT’s resources include the Robotics Technology Park near Decatur, the Maritime Training Center in Mobile, an advanced woodworking facility in Haleyville, along with company-specific training centers at plants operated by ThyssenKrupp, Hyundai, Honda and Mercedes.

Castile said it is particularly satisfying to see how the auto industry in the state has expanded in the years since AIDT help train Mercedes’ first batch of workers. Mercedes is expanding again,  boosting its workforce by 1,400 employees as it adds two new models to its Alabama vehicle line-up.

“We’re saying, ‘Here we go again.’ We’re going to be in Tuscaloosa a lot, and we are excited about it,” Castile said.

Keeler at Austal has seen first-hand how valuable AIDT’s training prowess can be to a company in rapid expansion mode. Austal is manufacturing Littoral Combat Ships and Joint High-Speed Vessels nder Navy contracts worth billions of dollars.

“We went from having 800 employees prior to the award of two major Navy contracts to having today 3,500 employees,” Keeler said. “In two years, we have added 2,700 employees. And we will be filling 400 to 500 jobs this calendar year.”

Keeler said Austal wouldn’t have been able to expand its workforce so quickly without the training programs at the AIDT’s Maritime Training Center. He said the company has hired 900 workers after AIDT training there, mainly in welding and shipfitting. (Read about Rodney Patrick of Austal.)

The kind of skills needed by Austal – especially aluminum welding – are typically gained through on-the-job training or through specialized training courses offered by a community college or another organization. But Austal didn’t have the time to handle training for all the new workers, and there weren’t enough training courses in Mobile to make the rapid ramp-up possible.

“AIDT and the state’s investment in skills training have been critical,” Keeler said.

Dave Anderson, director of operations at Lockheed Martin Corp.’s missile plant in Troy, also has seen how valuable AIDT training programs can be. He said the agency has handled training for the all of the technicians who work at the facility, which has more than 310 workers.

“The people who complete AIDT classes are ready when they walk onto the floor the first time,” Anderson said. “That’s a tremendous cost advantage to me. They have all the basics – that’s 40 to 60 hours I’m saving.”

In many cases, AIDT partners with members of the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) on training initiatives. One notable example is the Mercedes “Mechantronics” program  that gives Shelton State Community College students classroom instruction and hands-on experience at the automaker’s manufacturing plant. Top graduates of the program are guaranteed a job.

Castile said the community college system leadership understands the importance of workforce development.  On a recent afternoon, ACCS Chancellor Mark Heinrich dropped by Castille’s office to talk with a prospect about workforce-training opportunities. Castille said that level of cooperation is nothing out of the ordinary.

“We are good at that,” he said.

AIDT training programs have a long track record. Since the agency was founded in 1971, it has assisted more than 3,150 companies and trained more than 553,000 workers, an average of nearly 13,500 a year. It has an ISO-9001:2008 certification from the International Standards Organization, a first for a state-funded workforce training program.