Jeff Lynn, workforce development director for the Alabama Community College System, preps students for entering the workforce by learning what companies want. And it’s paying off.

“We’re one of the very few community college systems across the states who are working with Apple,” Lynn told attendees at the Opelika Chamber of Commerce Business Over Breakfast meeting Tuesday. “Maybe because Tim Cook went to Auburn, I don’t know, but…we’ll be the only state that’s rolling out some new things we’re going to be working on with Apple.”

Those things entail virtual reality and augmented animation, he explained. Students using the new technology would be able to project an engine and take it apart, or examine a cadaver, learning how to properly do things before hands-on lab work.

“So all kinds of things, from healthcare to manufacturing, and you can imagine, through virtual reality,” he said. “Quite frankly, we need to reach our students with that virtual reality type of program, so we can get kids, millennials, excited about careers in manufacturing.”

During his address to local business leaders at the Saugahatchee Country Club, Lynn explained programs and certifications the community college system offers, as well as partnerships and working relations with manufacturers.

“When our textiles left this region, we were very fortunate to bring in a lot of automotive jobs that paid more, and were just as secure or better,” Lynn said. “But if we start losing automotive companies, we’ll be really struggling. So my job on a daily basis is to work with companies across the state, making sure we’re nailing the curriculum, nailing the programs, doing better marketing to get students into these programs, feeding that pipeline like we’ve never done before.”

Alabama’s community colleges have a mechatronics program with Mercedes-Benz, for example, during which students are paid for 40-hour weeks during the course of 18 months. Participants learn electrical, mechanical and computer control engineering, and they receive training on the shop floor.

“There’s 100 percent placement for this group,” Lynn said of students who complete the program. “It’s very rigorous, number one, but number two, it’s exactly what these companies want.”

Lynn referenced a partnership with the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council, which is scheduled to be implemented in all two-year colleges across the state for the spring 2018 semester.

The ACCS announced the partnership in October and will offer industry-led credentials. Through the new program, students can become certified production technicians or certified logistics technicians. Alabama is the first state to offer MSSC standards statewide.

“We have some really strategic plans that are coming together across this region. We’re really trying to do a lot of change agents across the state, quite frankly,” Lynn said Tuesday. “I think you’re going to see a big change in what we’re doing across the state, in a very positive way, to help our companies grow.”

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