The story continues with a brief recap from the last column. The Highlands Workforce Development & Education Program of Work began in 2008 to improve high school graduation rates and address skill gaps within the existing workforce. Collaborations were formed among K-12, post-secondary education, business and industry with goals established for oversight by a steering committee. The programs and collaborations led to an invitation to join the Tennessee Pathways to Prosperity network.
Pathways to Prosperity is designed to prepare students for jobs that exist in the region. Labor market data and employers’ input led to the establishment of Advanced Manufacturing & Health Science pathways by the steering committee. Launching these two pathways has meant forming additional teams to create seamless pathways beginning with 7th grade, to high school, to post-secondary education and job placement. The Advanced Manufacturing Committee and Health Science Committee began assessing gaps, identifying courses and content to be offered, addressing articulation agreements from one level of education to the next, adding career exposure for students, and creating a new academic career coach position in the school districts. Coaches work closely with students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and all stakeholders to provide various data about job growth areas and required education levels.
Part of the mission is to reduce the amount of time and money spent preparing students for career or post-secondary education. Informing students early on about their options based on skills and interests, aligned with good to great paying jobs in the region is vital. Exposing students to options early discovery of if a career as a good fit or not. A student considering nursing can find out earlier if the sight of blood is upsetting and uncover an opportunity to be a physical therapist instead. A student good in math may discover a hidden talent to be a mechanical engineer and help people in the process with a discovery/invention. The possibilities can be endless.
The Highlands Workforce Development & Education work is aligned with the Governor’s Drive to 55, the TN Promise and TN Reconnect. Our work and the Governor’s programs are about preparing the emerging and existing workforce to meet the growing demand for a better-trained and more highly-skilled workforce. The Governor’s Drive to 55 tells us that 55% of the population will need some form of post-secondary credential by 2025. How can the state get there? Each community needs to do their part but none can do it alone. Our collaborative that began in 2008 must continue in the future for further forward progress.
The TN Promise allows eligible graduating high school seniors to have their first two years of college courses paid if they attend a Community College or College of Applied Technology. TN Reconnect is assisting the adult learner with access to certification courses through the TN College of Applied Technology.
We have been on the right path and will continue as long as we have passionate, dedicated and hard-working people committed to doing what is right for the students and our citizens. None of this would work without the voice of business, industry, and without their willingness to partner with education. It wouldn’t work without education as a willing partner. It would be easy for all stakeholders to say "we have too much on our plates already. Why should we do this?" It is true but how can they/we not? There is too much at stake. We have come to know that we can affect change when we come together. When we hear what the other has to say and when we check our egos at the door, positive change happens. We owe it to the children and for the best interest of the communities in the Upper Cumberland.