Two years ago, Southern Company began a partnership in Jackson County to boost workforce training with the opening of the Instrumentation and Controls Academy (I&C Academy) at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Jackson County Campus in Gautier.
Today, the I&C Academy is thriving with more than 400 students registered and fall classes already beyond capacity.
“It’s great to see how this investment by the company is paying off,” Coast Division Manager Jason Manley said. “The training these students are receiving ensures they are ready to be plugged into the control room almost immediately – really amazing work.”
Through its partnership with Mississippi Power and Southern Company, the academy, which has a 90 percent placement rate for graduates, has two Southern Company Services instructors on site – training analysts Keith Hunter and Steve Wright.
“Our students are able to train on the same equipment used at our plants, however we can give examples and actually demonstrate what happens when procedures are not followed,” Hunter said. “During a scenario, students were discussing a problem as they viewed readings on a computer screen. A procedure wasn’t followed on purpose to show exactly what would happen and the readings were lost. If this happened in real life, you would probably be looking for a new job – I bet they’ll remember that throughout their career.”
In addition to creating an accurate work environment, students are taught about the importance of safe behavior as often as they are taught the technical trades.
“We start every morning off with a safety briefing so students realize just how important a role safety plays in the workplace,” Hunter said as he pointed to the various Target Zero signs located throughout the room. “Not only are we committed to making sure these young people are battle tested, but they need to be mentally prepared to do it safely.”
On the other side on the facility, Wright teaches mechanical compliance and strives to continually improve the program by introducing machinery and tools that exist in the workplace.
Wright takes great pride in his work and makes it fun for students by adding a personal touch to his teaching. To demonstrate how valves work and show repair techniques, he creates cross sections of the mechanisms and paints them to reflect the various teams within the Southeastern Conference.
“It’s always fun to bring a rival’s colors to an off-site teaching session,” Wright said. “I brought this yellow and purple one to a training session in Alabama – they got a kick out of it.”