JMer Is Manufacturing Pipeline Potential in Alabama

Terry Couch doesn’t just help manufacture roofing products; he helps manufacture a workforce for his industry.

After working for JM for seven years and being faced with ongoing staffing challenges as plant manager at Scottsboro, Alabama, he took the problem into his own hands.

“I noticed that there was a huge gap between the training needs of manufacturing from the educators at the local community college, high school vocational technology college, Economic Development Authority (EDA), Impact Learning Center, curriculum at the high schools and other entities that claim to provide training and services for workforce development,” Terry said.

So, he got involved with his area chamber of commerce and Innovate Jackson County Workforce Solutions to help spearhead community-led workforce development. First, he assembled a group of managers of 16 area plants to survey and begin to address the workforce needs of manufacturing companies.

Together, the plant managers group worked with the city and county, as well as area schools and colleges to develop training based on the priorities and needs indicated in the survey.

The training has been held at the local junior college, Northeast Alabama Community College, and at AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development Training) at Alabama Robotics Technology Park in Tanner, Alabama. Most of the training is for new or seasoned maintenance technicians and Frontline leaders after they are hired with JM.

“We are gaining a lot of traction and support,” said Terry, who serves an executive board member on the Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce representing manufacturing and as vice-chair of Workforce Solutions.

The training developed in response to the survey – specifically for maintenance technicians, welding, basic electrical motor controls and PLC classes – is already being used by area manufacturing companies, some of it offered at local community colleges.

Leadership training for frontline leaders is also in development, Terry added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put further strain on the talent pipeline in Alabama, Terry noted, so the group reviewed statewide data to identify the available upcoming workforce pool.

The answer? High school students. 

Working alongside the Chamber of Commerce, the superintendent of city and county schools and other educators, Terry and his group helped to develop the Jackson Launch Program – a work-based learning opportunity – to be able to recruit high school juniors and seniors into the manufacturing industry on a part-time basis. 

“Studies have shown that an extremely high number of high school students develop a loyalty to a company, and many remain with the company after graduating,” said Terry. 

Students who express interest in longtime careers or in specific career paths are chosen for the program. For those in manufacturing, they begin working in basic assembly and production jobs and after a year or two, those with an interest in maintenance, welding or electrical operations or even engineering and computer science can be placed for job shadowing opportunities in areas of the company outside of production.

The companies have the option to offer program graduates full time positions and/or allow them a work schedule that enables the student to pursue an associate degree and additional certifications at Northeast Alabama Community College (NACC) while continuing to work.

JM is among six companies participating in the program, which employs 20 students, currently.

“This program went from a concept to reality in less than six months,” Terry said, adding, “I have hired two students currently with the goal to hire two more, soon.” He lauded JM Group HR Leader Shirley Vawter, for her help in bringing the program to fruition at the Scottsboro plant.

Jackson County Workforce Solutions was recently featured in the Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce Newsletter, in which Terry was quoted, saying, “The introduction of this available workforce is a win-win for all parties involved.”

Next up, Terry says, is a “second chance” program to provide manufacturing jobs to individuals with minor criminal records, such as misdemeanors or drug charges – no violent crimes – who would otherwise be eliminated from consideration for hiring by existing background screening processes.

“I have a personal passion for this program,” said Terry, noting he is working with local judges and community groups to launch the program in the coming months. He said he was inspired by a family member who has been held back in his career due to nonviolent criminal charges.

“His record has kept him from career and other personal opportunities which has held him back and caused major depression and other issues,” said Terry. “We are designed to make mistakes and all deserve a second chance in life.”