Heinrich opened his remarks with a story of a young woman who was successful in both areas while he was president at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa.
The student, whom he called Jamie, was born to parents who were illiterate, had substance abuse problems and died early in her life.
Determined to better herself, Jamie enrolled in Shelton State’s Adult Education program. After acquiring her GED, she took advantage of a scholarship offered to graduates of the program and enrolled in a welding class.
Her salary at her first job after obtaining her welding certification was $50,000 a year. Within three years, she was making more than $100,000.
“These are the kinds of students that we work with on a regular basis. I have found that if you give that student an opportunity, they are incredibly grateful but also incredibly successful,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich was in Jasper on Tuesday to attend a press conference about new dual enrollment legislation that will provide more scholarship for high school students who are interested in technical careers such as welding, drafting design and automotive technology.
Heinrich said the state has more openings in these fields than workers who are qualified to fill them.
For example, one employer recently informed him that 800 welders were needed on the Gulf Coast as quicky as possible.
Heinrich said he also receives many requests for workers skilled in industrial maintenance, adding that he would not have any difficulty placing 2,000 students in such jobs.
“The fact of the matter is that there are jobs everywhere. What we need to do is educate individuals about where those jobs lie,” he said.
Heinrich also acknowledged that one hurdle to attracting high school students to technical fields is a cultural bias toward academic degrees.
“When you talk to most parents, they will say, ‘I want my son or daughter to go to college. I don’t want them to go to technical school.’ They don’t understand that they’re both college. It’s just a little different route, and by the way, you can make a great salary,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich also stressed the importance of reaching out to the nearly 500,000 working age adults in Alabama who do not have a high school diploma.
Another 800,000 adult workers who are high school graduates would qualify for the Adult Education program if they were tested, according to Heinrich.
“We absolutely have to capture that population. That is going to be the future of our workforce. That’s a rich part of what we are doing,” Heinrich said.