Bill Holtzclaw likes to tell a story about a little boy, an old man, and a beach full of washed-up starfish.
It goes like this: An old man is walking on a beach one day and sees dozens of starfish have washed up on the beach in the tide. A little boy is on the beach picking up starfish, one by one, and throwing them back into the water. The old man tells the boy he’s wasting his time, because he can’t save them all. But the little boy picks up one, throws it back into the ocean and says “I made a difference to that one.”
It’s a story that has real meaning for Holtzclaw, who recently spoke to KTECH students about integrity in the workplace.
“You can do what you can to try and make a difference and to help people along the way,” Holtzclaw said. “You can’t help them all, but you can make a difference to the ones that you can.”
KTECH has been working to make that difference for the last six years, and Holtzclaw was there at the beginning.
At the time, he was a state senator and KTECH CEO Lee Marshall asked him to accompany her to look at the mechatronics program offered by Motlow State Community College in Tennessee. Marshall thought a similar job training program could benefit kids in North Alabama who were aging out of the foster care system without any real plan for what came next.
“Initially I thought it was a stretch because of the amount of initial investment to get it there,” Holtzclaw said. “But Lee’s good at stretches.”
He saw the potential benefits though, and six years after he pitched in to help plant the seed, KTECH is still making strides and changing lives, giving its students the training and certifications they need to get jobs in North Alabama’s booming manufacturing industry. KTECH students come from a wide range of backgrounds, including the foster care system.
KTECH’s success has real meaning for Holtzclaw, who was orphaned at birth and lived in a children’s home until age 5, when he was taken in by the foster family that raised him through high school. He went on to graduate high school and served 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. After retiring, he worked in the private sector and served two terms in the Alabama Senate from 2010-2018. He is currently campaigning for another term in Senate.
Many foster children do not fare as well as Holtzclaw. Studies have shown foster children who age out of the system tend to have lower employment rates and unstable employment patterns; they also typically have low incomes.
“By all rights, I should have been a statistic,” Holtzclaw said. “And some of these folks that are coming into this program were a statistic, but they’re rebounding. They survived or persevered through whatever curve balls that were thrown their way. They’re going to return to be productive members of society, and this is one of the paths that’s proven very successful to be able to enable that.”
Since 2016, KTECH has given 278 certifications in Mechatronics, Robotics, Solid Edge, Soldering and Virtual Reality. KTECH also helps its students with Life Labs, where experts come to give KTECH students lessons on subjects ranging from financial planning to nutrition.
Holtzclaw and fellow members from the Rotary Club of Madison were there recently for a Life Lab focused on workplace integrity, which covered topics like making ethical decisions and how to behave professionally in a work environment.
Holtzclaw says he is glad to have been a part of helping get KTECH off the ground as a state senator, and he sees now that the need for it won’t go away.
“It feels rewarding to have been a part of the process to initiate it, but it also enlightens you to the fact that there’s a never-ending pipeline,” he said. “And so that never-ending pipeline of people that are going to continue to need that support, we need to continue to work to find ways to meet the industry need as well as their needs, so that they can continue.
“Everyone deserves that chance to be able to learn a skill, have a skill,” Holtzclaw continued. “We all come from different backgrounds, but everyone deserves a chance to be able to develop themselves so that they can be marketable and have a job and a family and a career and all those things.”
KTECH, which is a workforce initiative of the Kids to Love Foundation, is accepting applications now for its Fall 2022 Mechatronics session. KTECH is also the home to KTECH VR Academy, which teaches high school students how to develop programs for virtual reality. For more information about KTECH’s offerings and class schedules, visit goktech.org.