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Bridging education and industry

Local leaders talk workforce

Posted 3/14/23

Representatives for UT Southern’s Rural Leaders program met at the Bedford County Courthouse Friday morning to hear updates on workforce development from Shelbyville Bedford Partnership’s …

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Bridging education and industry

Local leaders talk workforce


Representatives for UT Southern’s Rural Leaders program met at the Bedford County Courthouse Friday morning to hear updates on workforce development from Shelbyville Bedford Partnership’s Kelly North and Shane Hooper, Shelbyville’s Tennessee College of Applied Technology President Laura Monks, and Bedford County School’s Assistant Superintendent Tim Harwell.

The group also made a visit to the Nearest Green Distillery where co-founder Keith Weaver gave a presentation on their workforce development.

According to an article from Our Tennessee magazine, the goal of the program is to create “leadership that understands rural communities.” The Turner Center for Rural Vitality at UT Southern’s Pulaski campus, created this nine-month program that “blends county visits with on-campus learning from leadership experts.”

This year’s UTSRL roster included County Commissioner Sylvia Pinson and local business owner Tracy Strassner. Tonya Woodward, CEO of Hope Hohenwald in Lewis County, and Brad Prickett, from United Communications in Marshall County, were also present at Friday’s meeting. Members Brandi Burdette, business developer for the Bank of Frankewing, and Allyson Dickey, executive director of the Perry County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, were unable to attend the event.

Over those nine months, participants will visit the 13 counties in Southern Middle Tennessee. In these meetings, they will examine a particular aspect of rural economic development, like industry, workforce development, social entrepreneurship and cultural assets.

In the theme of workforce development, Director of Existing Business Development Kelly North gave an “Overview of Workforce initiatives and Economic Development” in Bedford.

The big takeaway is that over half of Bedford County School seniors do not pursue a secondary education, but rather go straight into the workforce, according to North. Therefore, the goal is to incorporate real workforce skills into the classroom as well as connect existing industry with job-ready students.

The Shelbyville Bedford Partnership has several opportunities where students and teachers can connect with Bedford’s industries.

For example, the have the Partners in Education program where local industry partners commit to participating in a variety of activities with the Bedford County School System, such as through classroom speakers, field trips, and job-shadowing.

The 8th Grade Career Exploration Fair brings some 750 students to learn about in-demand job from over 20 local employers.

The Shelbyville-Bedford Job Fair brings high schools seniors to network and interview with employers. North said 25% of the students who attended the last job fair were granted job interviews.

For the teachers, the Partnership puts together a “Teachers on Tour” event where high school teachers tour local businesses and industries as part of their summer staff development. In the same vein, Higher Ed Industry Tours offer Motlow and TCAT Shelbyville staff to take an “inside look” at local training needs.

They also host an industry “roundtable” to address challenges faced by specific industry sectors and a collaboration to alleviate these challenges.

According to North, 25- to 65-year-olds are in 83% of the workforce. So, programs like the above help to tap into underserved communities, such as emerging young professionals (ages 18 to 24).

They also help to connect people to higher-paying jobs. North said Bedford County’s average wage is $42,000. This is compared to the Southeast, which has a wage average of $56,000. And though unemployment in Bedford is around 3%, job layoffs during the pandemic displayed workers or, hopefully, encouraged them to find a better job.

Those speaking at the UTSRL event Friday said they hope more people take advantage of Shelbyville’s new TCAT facility, which is planning to open in the late fall of 2024 or in the early winter of 2025, according to President Laura Monks.

Through programs like the Tennessee Promise, students are granted two free years of either a community college, like Motlow State, or at a TCAT,

Assistant superintendent Tim Harwell, said, “I can honestly say, particularly in the last two years in this role as assistant superintendent, I’ve never seen as much progress as we’re making as far as getting the message out there about important education is…and being able to partner. It gives us hope.”

To learn more about UT Southern’s Turner Center for Rural Vitality or to apply for the next UT Southern Regional Leadership cohort, visit utsouthern.edu/4424-2/.