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Southern Union State Community College students Beau Gregory, left, and Christopher Lee operate a Skill Boss machine that provides students with technological maintenance training. Opelika High School students will receive similar training if they are able to pursue dual enrollment this fall and graduate as certified production technicians. 

Opelika High School students may be able to pursue dual enrollment to become certified production technicians when they graduate as a result of progress made within the city’s workforce development initiative.

The prospective, two-year enrollment option would be provided by a program through the national Manufacturing Skills Standards Council, said Greg Leikvold, a former manufacturing manager with Michelin who worked in multiple countries and is now providing consultation services on behalf of Opelika’s workforce development efforts.

As certified production technicians, graduating students would be skilled in the basic principles of manufacturing in four areas: safety, quality, maintenance and manufacturing processes, Leikvold said. Local industrial officials have expressed enthusiasm about the idea.

“I’ve pitched it to the factory managers and they’ve said, ‘Great. That’s great. Please do that so that we have more employable young people,’” Leikvold said.

Enhancing employability

The dual-enrollment initiative emerged from collaborative efforts involving officials from the city, Opelika High School and Southern Union State Community College, said Leikvold. Through its implementation, the program would enhance students’ employability among local industries.

“It’s a national program that we think we’d like to implement, and we’re told we’re pioneers in doing this,” Leikvold said. “So if we can pull it off…it should make a lot of our kids more employable, those that choose not to go to a four-year university right away. And it’ll help our local businesses who need that kind of talent.”

In pursuing the initiative, Leikvold added that he and other officials have met with several plant managers at West Fraser, Castone Corporation, Mando America Corporation, Cumberland Plastic Solutions, Golden State Foods and Pharmavite.

“We simply asked these managers, ‘What are your workforce needs?’” Leikvold said. “So we understand what they need, and that’s really why we developed this dual enrollment program and some other things. So I’m spending a lot of time in factories with managers, trying to assess their needs and then address them.”

Leikvold said he will receive assistance from Clifford Jones, pastor at Greater Peace Baptist Church, with reaching out to parents.

Jones said he will promote the program as much as he can.

“I think it’s important for parents to understand the nature of the program, because many of the students who graduate may not be going to college,” Jones said. “This will be an alternative for them to find good employment, or a trade or skills, for them to be able to make a living.”

Connecting with industry

Officials with the city and school system expressed positive outlooks about the program.

“I think that’s something that will be very beneficial to our community for the needs that we have in workforce development, and also great opportunities for students,” said Lori Huguley, the city’s director of economic development.

OHS Principal Farrell Seymore highlighted the school’s excitement about partnering with the city and Southern Union “to provide many of our students opportunities to enroll in college early and begin a more rigorous look at a career in industry.”

“We are fortunate to have so many different manufacturing opportunities in our city,” Seymore added. “Our goal is to connect with industry partners to ensure that students who choose to enter the industrial pathway are prepared for both college and a career.”

Having sufficient availability of competent employees is vital to industrial growth, Leikvold said.

“There are local companies that have capital to spend, they tell us, and they’re not going to spend it until they’re sure they have the required workforce,” he added. “So that’s the primary goal. So it benefits the company, and then it benefits the human being because he or she gets a better, high-paying job because they have the better skill set. And that, in turn, helps the community.”

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