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New Huntsville employee perk: free, on-site university classes

AL.com logo AL.com 5 days ago By Lee Roop, al.com

A Huntsville company has a new tool in the competition for employees and employee loyalty in this fast-growing Alabama tech town: free college classes.

If you’re thinking that’s fairly common, there’s a twist. Radiance Technology company’s new classes will happen at the company itself. Students will pay for and take courses in a group at the office, and Radiance will pay them back when they finish one.

“I wanted to make it easier for our people,” Radiance CEO Bill Bailey said Friday. “Bring it in-house, have it here.”

Bailey remembers being a young professional seeking post-graduate education. It was an exhausting cycle of work, driving to class, class, driving home, taking care of the family and then studying. “If I could just reduce the administrative trivia and the (travel) for the classes, then I think I’ve added a lot of value,” he said. “So, that’s the way we’re doing it.”

Bailey explained his idea to Lane Fabby, whose job title is “Radiance University chancellor.” She went looking for a university partner and found one. Auburn University and Bailey signed a formal agreement Friday.

“We’ve cobbled together a program that looks like it’s going to serve all of our needs,” Bailey said. “It’s going to put more graduates in a management and technical field. It’s going to allow me to increase the value of my employees. Hopefully, it makes them more attached to Radiance.”

Recruiting employees and keeping them is a challenge in Huntsville, and it’s getting more challenging by the month. Deloitte interviewed 94 employers in the region for an employment survey late in 2019 and found companies plan to fill 14,000 new positions over the next three years. That’s across a 14-county region in north Alabama and three-county region in southern Tennessee, but the center of the action is Huntsville, where aerospace, defense and manufacturing jobs are opening rapidly.

Specifically, Radiance Technologies and Auburn are offering workers a new systems engineering post-graduate program “specifically designed for Huntsville,” Auburn University Dean Dr. Chris Roberts said at Friday at the agreement signing.

The program is based on “cohort building,” a method of encouraging students to take courses as a group so they can work together and support each other. “There are a lot of statistics that indicate the success of students is improved if they’re participating as part of a cohort,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he is excited by a CEO “willing to make this a priority for his employees.” “If we can bring the quality of our academic programs to bear for companies in our state,” he said, “that’s a win for Auburn, that’s a win for Alabama.”

How does the program work? Each course can be a little different, Roberts said. Sometimes, students watch a real-time Auburn class on video so they can ask questions. Other classes are streamed later. Assignments are flexible and team-based.

Roberts said Auburn sees a “massive, expansive market in engineering in Huntsville.” So do the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Athens State University, Georgia Tech University and other schools. “You have a lot of people working in engineering fields that may or may not have engineering degrees,” Roberts said. “But they are transitioning into engineering because of the need and the pure opportunities here.”

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