It’s academic: Educational partnerships boost Huntsville’s workforce development

single-meta-cal October 9, 2017

Access to a skilled and available workforce is one of the most important aspects of economic development. It’s also one of Huntsville’s most important features and has led to many wins for the “Rocket City.” But how do we prepare for the jobs of tomorrow and ensure we can meet the needs of industry today? That’s possible through the many resources we have in the community.

The word is out there that Huntsville is a tech and engineering hotbed. With the highest concentration of engineers in the nation and a place where nearly one in four jobs are in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field, Huntsville’s main currency is brain power. In the global war for talent and the rapid move toward a more knowledge-based economy, having workers with the right skills in STEM is increasingly important.

“Back in the agriculture age, you needed a good animal and a strong back. In the industrial age, you needed the right tool and a strong back. But in the knowledge age, you need a strong mind. Huntsville is a city full of strong minds,” Mayor Tommy Battle says.


A skilled workforce starts with schools. Huntsville City Schools has implemented several programs that will result in students becoming college and career ready.

Students in Huntsville City Schools can participate in an Engineering Magnet School, specialized tech programs at New Century Technology High School, Cyber Teams at every high school, and more.

“Students don’t solely learn from a curriculum, they learn by doing,” Battle says. “Our Cyber teams win national competitions. These are going to be the kids that protect our most critical infrastructure and valuable intellectual property.”

But what about programs for those who actually want to build things? Huntsville City Schools Career Academies have something everyone such as building sciences, business, culinary arts, advanced manufacturing (precision machining), aesthetics, health, and more.

In the knowledge age, you need a strong mind. Huntsville is a city full of strong minds.” — Tommy Battle

One of the most well-known programs for advanced manufacturing is the Green Power Car program. In this program, students work together to research, design and manufacture a car they race in competitions.

“We’ve had a number of successes in economic development since 2008,” Battle says. “In every single one of those successes, the companies have asked about the quality of local schools. We can tell them that they are exceptional, with programs to leave their students career and college ready. That’s what makes all the difference. Education is one of those foundation blocks that you have to have to compete.”

Two-Year Colleges and Research Universities

Many economic development projects require specialized training and programs for employees and job seekers. This is a role that two-year colleges and research universities fill.

UAH is the Harvard Business School of the aerospace industry. With renowned programs in engineering, specialized programs in government contracting, and many others, UAH has proved to be an excellent pipeline for area companies.

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a leader in the aerospace industry, has announced a partnership with UAH to fund a $1 million endowment to establish the Aerojet Rocketdyne Chair in Space Science at UAH.

Along with UAH, Alabama A&M and Oakwood University have both taken steps to become involved with area industries, including opportunities for students to work on projects as interns and co-ops.

With the highest concentration of engineers in the nation and a place where nearly one in four jobs is in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field, Huntsville’s main currency is brain power.” — Harrison Diamond

When prospective employers need specific training for workers, often the two-year college system is there to deliver. Huntsville has two two-year colleges: J.F. Drake State Technical and Community College and the Huntsville campus of Calhoun Community College.

“When you can tell a company that we have two-year colleges that can give you the exact workforce you need, it helps remove those little doubts in your mind about locating a plant here,” says Battle, who has encouraged an initiative to diversify its aerospace industry into more manufacturing jobs with specific skill sets.

One example of a company requiring this type of worker is Science and Engineering Services (SES). The company specializes in maintenance, repair and overhaul work for a variety of Army aviation platforms as well as helicopters for foreign governments.

Huntsville City Schools, Drake State Community College, and Science & Engineering Services, partnered to offer dual enrollment opportunities for students entering the aviation advanced manufacturing fields.

Another program is the Alabama F.A.M.E. (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT) at Calhoun Community College. It leads to a two-year technical Associate degree that combines cutting-edge curriculum with paid working experience at companies such as Toyota.

“Our partners in education…especially our two-year institutions…are really where the rubber hits the road for workforce development of hands-on workers,” Battle says.

Harrison Diamond is the Business Relations Officer for the City of Huntsville