By Shelly Haskins
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “KTECH” is a workforce training program for foster youth and other at-risk kids. It was modeled after a program called “mechatronics,” a mix of training for mechanical, electronic and computer-based skills which are in high demand in the advanced manufacturing fields.
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham
Lee Marshall has never worried about her ability to provide the “love” part in “Kids to Love.”
A former foster child herself, her Kids to Love Foundation has loved and cared for more than 200,000 foster children all across Alabama since 2004.
What worried Marshall was what might happen to these foster children when they were no longer children.
She’d seen shocking statistics of the high percentage of foster children that end up in the juvenile justice system and prison.
“For years, it’s weighed on me,” Marshall said.
So Kids to Love began finding money to offer college scholarships to foster youth. They’ve given out more than 500 so far.
“But what we found is, not every one of our kids, like any kid, is cut out for college,” she said. “There was a gap for skills training to reach these under-resourced and underserved kids.”
She wanted to set up some kind of workforce training program for foster youth and other at-risk kids, but couldn’t find a similar program anywhere.
Developer Louis Breland and his wife, Patty, donated a building on Castle Drive in Madison. Huntsville aerospace legend and philanthropist Dorothy Davidson wrote a check for the best equipment money could buy.
After year of research, talking to plant managers about the skills needed in advanced manufacturing, Marshall hired instructors and veteran manufacturing manager Dorothy Havens to run the program, and got started.
The KTECH program, just about two years old now, is equipped with state-of-the-art training equipment, degreed engineers as instructors, and is one of only two schools in Alabama certified by the Siemens Corp., something that would impress any plant manager.
“Siemens certification in comparision to other certification is like Volkswagen to Cadillac. It’s a higher level of learning. It’s a higher standard,” Marshall said.
The teach Programmable Logic Control, hydraulics, electronics — all the skills advanced manufacturers want. Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa quickly became a partner, as did Sanmina-SCI in Huntsville.
Carl Duckett, vice president and general manager of Sanmina-SCI in Huntsville, said he originally got involved with KTECH just as a community service project for the company. But he soon learned that this was some serious training that was creating impressive workers.
“Now that I’ve learned really what it’s doing, it’s not only helping the community, it’s helping us,” Duckett said.
Marshall wants the folks at Toyota-Mazda to know, when you get your $1.6 billion plant ready to roll in Limestone County, KTECH will have workers trained and ready. They can either go straight to work, or they can transfer their Siemens training to credit at Calhoun, Wallace State and Motlow community colleges.
“We had a student this semester who finished high school early, and will be entering college next fall with a whole semester of credit,” she said.
And it’s not just foster kids. Marshall saw a need for skills training for lots of other people who come to the work force with a disadvantage. So she opened KTECH up to military veterans, homeless adults and anyone else who needed a leg up.
KTECH partners with Lincoln Village, the Downtown Rescue Mission and the Christian Women’s Job Corps.
They’ve had 29 graduates ranging in age from 18 to their 50s. They are millennials, military vets, men and women from multiple backgrounds and walks of life. The completion rate is 100 percent.
Not only are the students taught “mechatronics,” but they learn life skills. How to budget, make a grocery list, how to cook. Maybe most importantly, they learn to trust their fellow workers through team-building experiences.
“To me, if we had a child coming out of foster care, that depends on no one, that trusts no one, and you match them with a vet,” who is versed in military discipline and has trusted teammates with his or her life, “that is a mentorship that is magic.”
The addition of life skills training is the most impressive thing to Duckett.
“I think KTECH is doing a good job of creating a holistic person who can then go into the workforce,” he said.
Those workers aren’t just cut out for manufacturing.
“They could work at hospitals, any workplace that has electronics,” Marshall said. “If a company has a maintenance department, our kids can work there.”
Want to donate, enroll, learn more? Visit kidstolove.org/ktech