Anna Christensen gets off a skid steer after operating it during a heavy equipment training session at Calhoun Community College this week.

Workers and high school students learning new skills at Calhoun Construction Academy

, Decatur Daily

DECATUR – On Monday, more than a dozen individuals were digging up dirt and spreading mulch with skid steer loaders at Calhoun Community College for the school’s free construction course, something officials hope will prepare them for jobs in the local construction workforce.

Calhoun’s Construction Academy began this week, and throughout the five-day event, students will learn how to operate skid steers, excavators, road rollers and bulldozers. Doug Brazier, director of workforce solutions, said the academy was the second of three such academies this year with the third one planned for next month.

“We had our first one in June, and as word has got out about this one, we were inundated with people,” Brazier said. “So, we’ve decided to offer another one in two weeks.”

Brazier said a diverse group of high school students, retirees and those seeking additional skills attended and received certifications in June, and more than 100 others have signed up for the courses this month.

“I have 168 on my list right now, and I probably have another 80 emails to go through,” said Jamie Roberts, workforce solutions project manager. “That’s people that I told them if they were interested, we would just keep adding labs. We try to have at least 10 to 12 in a lab, but we can do 20 to 30, and I can hire more instructors.”

Brazier said the academy is free, but participants must register beforehand and complete online modules pertaining to construction theory through the Alabama Community College System Innovation Center on Fourth Avenue Northeast.

Although the academy is a non-credit course, Brazier said, after an individual receives certifications, those certifications will appear on their Alabama Community College System transcript. He said there is a high possibility participants will receive a job offer during the course from local companies.

“Grayson Carter and Son (Contracting Inc.) from Athens will be here on Friday, and Wiregrass Construction will also be here Friday,” Brazier said.

Among young adults and recent high school graduates seeking a career on Monday were also individuals striving to learn new skills for their current jobs.

“We’ve got some guys from Decatur Utilities going through it today,” Brazier said.

Anna Christensen, 22, operated a skid steer for the first time Monday and said she had previous experience operating excavators at North Alabama Land Services in Huntsville, a company her father owns. Instructors said she was one of the few women taking the course this week.

“I wanted to be able to help him more out with his land servicing company,” Christensen said. “Also, I’m in college for electrical engineering, and a lot of (employers) like for you to have heavy machinery operating experience.”

Christensen and each of her classmates took turns driving and operating skid steers near the college’s Line Worker field across U.S. 31 from the main campus.

Huntsville resident Micah McKinney, 16, said he wanted to take advantage of a free college course, especially one he can list on a job resume.

“If nothing works out, I’ll just go into construction,” McKinney said.

Recent West Morgan High graduate Diego Vivero, 17, also desires to enter the workforce soon and thought learning construction skills at no charge was something he could not pass up. He said he has had previous experience operating forklifts when he worked as a brick mason.

“I was going to college for welding classes, but I didn’t have any money, so that’s why I came out here,” Vivero said.

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