Award-Winning Alabama Company Supports Ready-to-Work Training

If you’re worried about the future when millennials or even the current crop of high school graduates start running things, this video will allay your fears.

These young men and women are in the manufacturing industry, supporting Alabama’s workforce needs, and their numbers are only going to grow thanks to innovative workforce education and training programs and support from Alabama businesses including an award-winning major staffing company headquartered in Alabama.

Business Council of Alabama (BCA) member the Ōnin Group, the state’s community college system, K-12 education, and the AIDT are transforming education in order to produce work-ready students who seek a full life without college.

Take a look at this video about Tuscaloosa’s Central High School and the Ōnin Group-sponsored Ready to Work (RTW) program that’s putting trained and eager young men and women into manufacturing and support jobs.

Ōnin was recognized as the 2018 Supplier of the Year by the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association (AAMA) on April 18 during the BCA and Alabama Technology Network’s Manufacturer of the Year Awards ceremony.

The awards recognize companies for bringing excellence to Alabama manufacturing and exemplifying innovation with a commitment to excellence and dedication to investing in employees and communities, AAMA President Ron Davis said.

An Ōnin division, Ōnin Staffing, serves the light industrial and clerical industries with work-ready men and women.

Hugh Thomas, managing partner of Ōnin Group, the second-largest and privately held industrial staffing service and one of the 20 largest industrial staffing companies, was interviewed recently by the BCA.

“We’re a little over 20 years old in the market,” Thomas said. “We started in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham and now we’re all over the Southeast. We’re in the Midwest and Texas, and a little farther west. We primarily staff for automotive, third party logistics, and food processing.”

Thomas said today’s challenge, with Alabama’s low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent and with baby boomers leaving industry, is to increase the number of millennials who express little interest in manufacturing careers.

High school students determining their next steps and who are unsure about attending college, might not know about great career opportunities in the automotive and manufacturing sectors and think their only future is in the service sector. Enter skill training.

“The economy has changed in this country,” said Donny Jones, COO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce. “Companies that participate and hire out of that program have a higher success rate.”

“That program” is the Alabama Community College System’s Ready to Work program which takes place at many Alabama high schools such as Central High School.

Ironically, Thomas is a graduate of Central High School, and today Ōnin is a key partner in the Ready to Work program at Central.

Ready to Work is an employer-led initiative that creates a career pathway for high school seniors and builds a local talent pipeline for local industries. Ready to Work enrolls interested seniors in a semester-long course that combines career-readiness training with an employer-driven curriculum. Students graduate with professional certifications recognized both statewide and nationally.

Alabama’s Ready to Work program, operated by the Alabama Community College System in cooperation with AIDT, started about 10 years ago to help develop and encourage work skills. It’s in the state’s 24 community colleges and the outreach now includes high schools. This fall there will be 20 high schools participating.

“We’d love to see it in every high school in the state,” said Jeff Lynn, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development for the Alabama Community College System. “It’s essential that students learn the work skills they need that employers require.”

If you’re already past high school, the two-year college system can get you started in a lucrative field in manufacturing and related industries at “If you go to the website and sign up, we can track you down and assign you to a school,” Lynn said.

Thomas said when he first got involved at Central, a basic job-related issue was many students did not even have a driver’s license or ID. One corporate sponsor took it upon itself to get students to the appropriate office where they “swiped their credit card” and were able to help them get licenses or IDs.

“It opened my eyes up to some problems but also opportunities to take a captive audience and polish them up and get them ready to go,” Thomas said. “The result was 88 percent went to work out of high school and all the companies associated with it offered jobs right away.

“I’m in the staffing business and with a labor market that is very tight we’re looking at this avenue to get everyone in the game,” Thomas said. “We got involved in the AAMA and asked (AAMA President) Ron (Davis) initially what can we do to help AAMA. He sent me to see Donny Jones who told us about the Ready to Work program.”

Ōnin partnered with local employers and Central to develop a customized RTW program that allows Central High students to explore career pathways, gain entry level skills, and develop soft skills.

“It gives them workplace credentials, it gives them workplace skills and knowledge,” Tuscaloosa City School Superintendent Mike Daria said. “The need for employees is there, there’s a demand for it. Ready to Work at Central High School is an example of … education leaders sitting down with business and industry leaders saying how can we make sure that … our students are really ready to go into careers here in our areas and how they can have an advantage over others, so they can be highly successful career?”

“This is exciting and one of the more gratifying things I’ve been involved in in my career,” Thomas said, so much so that, “we hired someone to administer this full time.”

Ōnin acts as a key partner in implementing the Ready to Work program in high schools across Alabama to ready students and create a talent pipeline for local industries.

The Ready to Work course for interested seniors – our next leadership generation – combines career-readiness training with an employer-driven curriculum in local automotive and manufacturing jobs.