Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For the Birmingham Times
Like many athletes at Hoover High School, Paul Norris is looking forward to signing day. Norris is a member of the school’s soccer team, but his signing day doesn’t involve football or fútbol—it is the Industry/Signing Day at the Academy of Craft Training at Birmingham’s Alabama Workforce Training Center (AWTC).
“It’s something he is already talking about,” said Randy Norris, Paul’s adoptive father.
Paul, currently a junior, is among dozens of high school students from across the Birmingham metro area who learn skills at the center that will allow them to have a career immediately after high school. Seniors will be recognized on May 10 at the training center (located at 3500 Sixth Ave. South in Birmingham) for having completed their courses in building construction, masonry, welding, carpentry, or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). Also attending the event will be representatives from dozens of businesses.
“They’ll be here for the ceremony,” said AWTC Project Manager Rod Jones. “They’ll shake their hands, give the job offer, the hard hat, or whatever else goes along with that company.”
Senior students “are almost guaranteed a job,” said Jones. “If they pass the drug test and complete the requirements for the program, it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll be employed.”
The AWTC, which operates under the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) agency, was established in 2015 to recruit and train a skilled workforce to help attract new business and expand existing industries in the state. The center prepares students for positions in construction, manufacturing, and other industries.
Linda Poindexter, director of the Academy of Craft Training, said the goal is for students signing with companies to know they’re as important as student-athletes signing to play college football.
“They’re going to sign with companies like Brasfield and Gorrie, Dunn Construction, Hoar, McGinnis, H&M Mechanical,” she said. “These are just amazing companies. These are companies that most students coming out of high school won’t have an opportunity to work with because they won’t have the connections.”
Paul Norris was adopted from Uganda. From age 9, he said he grew up in construction in his native land, working with bricks and cement to build houses.
“I really love this kind of stuff,” he said. “This is a great chance to show what I really can do. I really love this because God gave me a chance to come from a different country. Here, you can do what you want to do pretty much. If you’re willing to put in the work, [instructors] love to help you.”
Paul said he didn’t have a family to take care of him in Uganda, so he had to take care of himself.
“I was only thinking about what’s going to be happening tomorrow,” he recalled. “I was just happy God gave me another day to live. When somebody gives you a chance, you have to take advantage of it. You have to be willing to do it if you’re going to get something out of it.”
Paul said he has maintained contact with family in Uganda and hopes to someday make a difference there: “My family in Uganda, they didn’t have this kind of chance. They didn’t go to school. I’m trying to improve myself and maybe one day I can help my family.”
In the meantime, Paul’s adoptive parents Randy and Susan Norris are looking forward to supporting him next year when he signs on with a company, just as football parents support their sons.
“We’ll have our gear on and be right behind him,” the elder Norris said.