Multiple discussion panels were held during a Workforce Development Summit at Shelbyville Central High School Thursday morning. Local industry leaders, educators, and representatives discussed the need to bridge education and industry as well as talk about what skills are in-demand for the future workforce of Bedford County.
Bedford County Commissioner Greg Vick orchestrated the event to tout his stance on the importance of education.
And with him, many of the speakers, like Bedford County Schools Director Dr. Tammy Garrett, agreed.
“To attract industry, we have to have an accessible workforce. And our business partners are ready to come,” said Garrett.
Developing the workforce starts with the K-12 education in order to equip students with everything they need to do whatever they want, she said.
At one time, Dr. Garrett said, there was a call for all students to attend college. But that has changed, as was discussed among the other panelists, including Laura Monks, president of Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Shelbyville; Michael Torrence, president of Motlow State Community College; Mark Byrnes, Middle Tennessee State University Provost; and Brandon Hudson, senior director of workforce and economic development at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
Where education meets industry
Mike Krause, who is former executive director for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and a founding member of Tennessee Promise, facilitated the discussion panel.
A Putnam County native and Army veteran, Krause said he didn’t always understand the value of higher education. He didn’t attend college after high school.
And now, he says, there are way too many partitions between high school and higher education that hinder a seamless transition.
He said he was intrigued by Bedford County specifically because it is “poised for a new shift.”
“It’s about one thing: jobs…It’s important to get industry in the same room as educators,” he said.
And not only is it about developing the workforce in general, but this is about Bedford County, he said.
Two important ways to ensure this goes through successfully: ensure there are enduring partners and always translate these ideas into smaller, practical concepts, according to Krause.
Garrett explained some of the ways to get workforce development into schools is through implementing the “innovative high school model,” which is a state-initiative and includes acquiring more dual enrollment and technical classes.
This will require more training and more industry certifications for the schools to begin implementing the model, she said.
So she emphasized the need for “passionate educators,” where the Board of Education can in turn provide teachers with adequate training, after school supplemental programs, and better pay.
There’s a need to educate educators. Garrett said that there are only two students at MTSU majoring in math education in undergrad. This was affirmed by Byrnes who said we need to make “public education more attractive.”
This is especially important, Garrett said, since Bedford County is competing with other growing counties like Rutherford and Williamson.
For Monks at TCAT-S, it’s also about getting the students excited about learning again. TCAT-S currently has an 81 percent graduation rate and a 90 percent job placement rate.
What’s the secret?
“TCAT-Shelbyville offers 13 different programs for a reason. And that’s because those are the needs here in our region,” said Monks.
At Motlow, Torrence said they look to prepare their students for “new collar” work―which he describes as “cleaner” jobs in software, robotics, and advanced manufacturing services.
“This common denominator of evolving―what does that mean? That means in an English class, a business class, a history class, a shop class, that the technological literacy needs to be imbued to improve the human condition. That is the point of it; it is not to replace any of us…stacking credentials along the way so that that way they can become gainfully employed at 16 and 17…” said Dr. Torrence.
Where industry meets education
Another discussion panel housed four local industry leaders: Scott Johnson, Musgrave Pencil Company; Blair Mann, Cooper Steel Fabricators; Keith Weaver, Uncle Nearest; and Shelby Scoggins, Marelli North America. Each spoke on what in=demand skills their companies are looking for―which is majorly skilled labor.
For Musgrave Pencil Company, they have shifted to e-commerce and online sales and look for laborers with graphic design and IT skills.
On a more hands-on side, Mann from Cooper Steel said they need welders, while Scoggins said they need machinists at Marelli. And both agreed that beyond the need for physical skills is the need for “soft skills,” traits like good communication and presentation―and being on-time.
“I have people walk in my office that want a better life for themselves. They want to show up to work, but they just don’t know how. So, we have to partner together to bridge that gap and show student, young adults, that it’s possible,” said Scoggins.
Weaver, who said Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has entered its 12th quarter for triple-growth sales, talked about how they need distillers, food scientists, and mechanical engineers.
Communicating these practical needs was a major part of Thursday’s panels.
Shane Hooper is president of the Shelbyville-Bedford Partnership, which essentially serves as a bridge for getting industry and educators working together. He said the current labor shortage has become another issue to tackle with workforce development. But at the Partnership they look to tackle industry problems before the occur, he said.
State Reps. Pat Marsh and Mark White spoke on legislation solutions.
Krause, facilitating the panel with Marsh and White, said, “Being at the Capitol often, I think you’d be surprised how much the two parties work together.”
Several years ago, Marsh said the district had $4 million to expand the TCAT-S facility. But he said, “why not build a new one?” Both he and State Sen. Shane Reeves were able to secure over $40 million to build the new facility, planned for the 231 North Industrial Park in Shelbyville. It will serve as a “front-door” to the Shelbyville-Bedford area, according to Marsh.
With around 500 people currently on a wait list at TCAT, Marsh said, “And hopefully those 500 people waiting to get in will want to go to this and go and graduate, and our placement rate will be 100 percent instead of 90 percent.”
White, a representative from Shelby County, came to the discussion panel as a way to start collaborating for regional workforce development. His county wants to prepare their workforce for the new Ford industrial plant, which is planned for 50 miles northeast of Memphis.
Longtime friends with Commissioner Vick, White said, “Any time you have cooperation among sharing good ideas―we have 147 school districts and 95 counties. That’s why this one today was very good because you hear about how people work together to collaborate to make something happen. Nobody can do it on their own; it’s too complicated.”
Marsh added during the panel, “We’ve got to entice these students on, there is a better life. We’re not teaching you this stuff just to pass a test. We’re teaching you this to make your life better, to make you get out and get a better job.”
A round of applause, from the dozens of teachers present, ensued.
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