Reprinted with permission by The Cullman Times


By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times

The career coach program that aims to help educate students about training needed for real-world job opportunities is expanding — and the coaches themselves are getting a first-hand look at local industry.

Career coaches from Wallace State, Calhoun Community College and Gadsden State Community College visited Cullman recently for a two-day primer on exactly what local industries in the Cullman area do, and the types of jobs they’re looking to fill.

More than a dozen from across the region participated in the tour, which visited several local manufacturing industries. The coaches were briefed on exactly what the jobs entail, and training needed to obtain them.

The career coach program was launched in 2009 with just a handful of coaches and is growing with aims to eventually encompass much of the state. Many of the coaches are based out of community colleges, and spend much of their time in high schools working with students to provide information on career path training.

Dr. Philip Cleveland, director of career tech and workforce development at the state department of education, said the program has grown exponentially in the few years since it was implemented. The only complaint? That it isn’t growing fast enough.

“Definitely, the goal is to have one career coach in every 9-12 school. They’ll go in once per day to each school, and consistently carry that message,” he explained. “I refer to them as boots on the ground for business and industry. But, they do that component, plus college readiness and helping make that transition. The only problem we’ve seen is schools wish they could have them everyday.”

Cleveland noted industry tours like the one held in Cullman (a separate tour was recently held in the Tuscaloosa area) can give the coaches a crucial level of perspective when helping students plan their career goals.

After seeing so much success in the pilot communities like Cullman County — where Cleveland worked for four years at Wallace State — he said state funding has been put in place to expand the program.

“We don’t want to duplicate, but the goal is each career coach is on the same path, and held to the same standards,” he said. “They’re tasked with setting up one-on-one interviews, and internships. Then, they report that data monthly and the coaches all share best practices. Cullman has done a fantastic job with this program, with Wallace State, supporting our schools.”

Susan Eller, with the Cullman Economic Development Agency CEDA), said the local tour was a hands-on way to show the career coaches exactly what types of jobs they’re preparing interested students to fill. By including coaches from regional areas, she said it could serve a long-term purpose to expand the Cullman workforce.

“We talked about what we have to sell, and how industries get here and what  they have to offer,” she said. “About the importance of workforce, and that’s why we wanted to get with colleges near enough to send potential employees here.”

Dale Greer, with CEDA and the state’s Workforce Development Council, noted the coaches are meant to work somewhat independently of the college to help students find where they’ll best fit for the future — regardless of exactly how it might fit with a particular college.

“They really just talk to all the kid and tell them about four-year schools, two-year schools, certificate programs and short-term training,” Greer said. “It’s about having someone there to tell all the kids about the career opportunities for them, based on their interests. They spend time at the high schools, do one-on-one counseling, and also talk to large groups.”

Greer noted the program can also be an eye-opener for high school students, who may not realize what it takes to find a good job once they graduate.

“It gives high school students more exposure to job potential, training, and I think it can help encourage them to stay in school,” Greer said. “They’ll need that additional training of some type to get the jobs they want to have. You don’t have many career opportunities with just a high school diploma anymore.”

Wallace State career coach coordinator Christine Wiggins said the tour was an excellent way to expose her staff of coaches to the myriad jobs available right here at home.

“The career coaches are working with high school students everyday to decide what their career path will be, and knowing what Cullman has to offer in the surrounding areas enables them to have a more informed perspective of what industries are out there,” she said. “I think sometimes students can have a narrow perspective of what Cullman can offer, and might be headed out the door before they give Cullman a chance. We support any student who wants to explore outside, but this lets us open their eyes to the opportunities available in Cullman.”

Noelle M. Stovall, a career coach at Gadsden State Community College, said she was very impressed with the Cullman area tour.

“We appreciated them taking the time to plan this eye-opening experience, and share with us many exciting industries,” she said. “We look forward to making our students aware of the wonderful opportunities available to them in Cullman.”