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"Should I stay, or Should I go?" Recruit workers in college

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The Alabama Public Radio news team has spent the last few months looking into why educated and skilled workers are leaving the Gulf coast. Our series is titled “Should I stay, or should I go?” APR has spoken to people who want to leave Alabama and why. The news team has also spent time hearing ideas on how keep these workers from pulling stakes. Today, we look at a plan involving one young student and how she and a potential employer sort of grew up together..

If you live in Mobile, you might hear this question. How old were you when you went to your first Mardi Gras parade?

“I think I five. Yeah…I think we were in downtown Mobile, like where the big parades are at. I think all of my family was there, including my aunts and uncles,” said Kemberlyn Milner. That memory includes the beads and doubloons people threw from the parade floats. Milner says she didn’t catch many…

“I remember getting hit by them, though,” she recalled.

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Milner’s family has roots in Mobile that go back thirty years. And not all of that time was spent eating King Cake at Mardi Gras. There was this certain family member and their shared interest in computers…

“I was like, twelve, I did this with my uncle, and we just took it apart and he just showed me the inside of everything inside the computer,” she said.

Milner never forgot those moments tinkering with the guts of a computer. And her high school computer science teacher took notice of that interest as well. Milner originally planned to pursue engineering at the University of Alabama. Milner says her current major is computer engineering, which takes a little explaining.

“So, computer science is basically like software…coding…and computer engineering is like hardware of each. It’s like a mixture of electrical and computer science,” Milner explained.

And, back in 2019, somebody else was taking notice of that certain high schooler who spent all those hours with her uncle, and a screwdriver, and computer a begging to torn apart.

“The sentiment tends to continue. Everyone who crossed paths with her. We’re just like..wow, yeah,” said Ali Zeidan. He’s with the University of Alabama’s alumni chapter in Mobile. And, as far as Kembelyn is concerned, he has more than compliments to throw around.

Pat Duggins

“So, she was on our list…by our list…the National Alumni Association for Mobile County for scholarship consideration. We get a list each year of area graduates, high school graduates, so she was one of those,” he recalled.

And not just a name on a list…

“It’s interesting…I get to her profile, I get to reading it…I read her test scores and her GPA, personal statement, and I’m moved,” recalled Zeidan. “I’m like, wow--here’s a go-getter, who’s trying to do something.”

That got Milner going at the University of Alabama. Roughly this same time, the other half of today’s story begins. Zeidan works for a Mobile County steel company called AM/NS Calvert. As Milner worked toward her degree at UA, one of Zeidan’s co-workers was next in line to notice her…

“Well, just her experience and her wanting to…desire to learn more, and thirst more for being part of the organization. She was wanted to engage…she was very engaged in what she was doing,” said Jeremy Doggette, a manager of talent acquisition at Calvert. That acquisition process begins with an internship—and Milner got one. So, three years later she’s in a summer internship at Calvert. Doggette explains it’s not just a bunch of college students running the coffee pot…

“It’s a long job interview,” he said. “You get to have them work at your facility for a year, and kind of feel them out. And, coach them and help build them. And if you want to hire them, if you have the opportunity to hire them, it’s great for everyone.”

So, Ali Zeidan explains that’s how Mliner’s story gets mixed together with his and Jeremey Dogett’s…

“So here we are three years later. And here’s this name again, here’s this person again, and she’s in Calvert. And she sent me a link request on linkedin,” said Zeidan.

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This is where the coincidences end and the recruiting begins. It’s the thirteenth story in APR’s on going series, Should I Stay or Should I go? It includes people thinking of leaving the Gulf coast, and efforts by Mobile area companies to keep them working here. Zeidan with a University of Alabama scholarship to offer, and Jeremy Dogette with a Calvert internship have the common goal. That’s convincing Milner that Calvert is a good company to work for. But, she’s keeping her options open.

“Ummm, right now, I’m leaning toward Google. But, once I graduate I’ll probably go back to Mobile and kind of look for my engineering jobs, and then I’ll stay there for two years. And then after those two years, I’ll go to Colorado, so I could get some more engineering experience, but in a different state.”

Milner sways one reason for maybe leaving Alabama is what she’s been hearing from classmates who say they’re definitely packing their bags. And that reason?

“I think it’s just Alabama as a whole,” recalled Milner with a chuckle.

Ali Zeidan says he understand Milner’s sense of wanderlust. He lived in Nashville and Birmingham after growing up near Chicago, so he knows the attraction of big cities. But Zeidan says that wears off when you see the job market

“You know, we’re looking at massive layoffs with these big west coast companies, companies in Austin and in Denver and other places like that. 10,000 here, 6,000 here… we’re not the case here,” he said.

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Like Milner, Ali Zeidan’s wife grew up in Mobile, so family history is one thing they have in common. But he says another is the local culture of community engagement that makes the Gulf coast a great place to set down roots.

“And, I don’t think it’s unique to AMNS (Calvert.) I’ve seen this with other organizations in the area, where they’re very involved in the community, and I think that has a lot to do with the local culture. Mobile is well known for its philanthropies, and community support—just everyday people just helping their neighbors,” he observed.

And what could a Kemberlyn Milner do at Calvert? Zeidan says her skills are critical as the company manufactures steels for its customers..

“When you’re running steel through the mill, you have a lot of things happening at the same time,” Zeidan observed. “So, people like her, they help us to make sure everything is tuned…that everything is hitting at the right moment. And if anything is out tolerance, people like her spot that.”

Ali Zeidan and Jeremy Doggette probably have until December to make their case to Milner on a position with Calvert. That’s when she graduates. Milner says it’s possible…

So, if Calvert’s strategy works, Milner might be in Mobile catching Mardi Gras beads, or at least avoiding being hit with them for years to come. However, win, lose or draw, Zeidan and Doggette see Milner as the template for possible future workers where Calvert can make its case for employment, before these young people graduate and move on.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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