Innovations in Workforce Development – The Way to Win at Work

Gibson County, Tennessee

Gibson County is located in the heart of West Tennessee just north of I-40 and the city of Jackson. In the late 1990’s Gibson County leaders began development of industrial properties in preparation for future manufacturing locations as a key part of their comprehensive economic development strategy. This focus and investment paid off with projects like the location of Tyson Foods in the county’s industrial park in Humboldt in 2017. In addition to this industrial site location, Gibson County has one of the largest numbers of TNECD Certified Sites in place for future industrial locations and expansions.

As site preparation efforts were underway, Gibson County elected officials and economic development leaders also realized that development of the county’s future workforce was critical to their economic development success. These leaders wanted their local youth to be fully prepared to benefit from future employment opportunities. In 2009, the Gibson County Commission confirmed that workforce development was their top priority and took actions to address the issue. The Gibson County Workforce Development Committee was formed as part of the county’s Joint Economic & Community Development Board (JECDB) to lead this effort.

The committee’s membership includes leaders from local and state government, higher education, Chambers of Commerce, K-12 superintendents, Career and Technical Education (CTE) directors and counselors, Development Districts, the Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board and industry. Since its organization, committee members have met monthly and provided the vision and strategic relationships for the all initiatives that the county has implemented. This collaboration combined with the clear purpose of improving the local workforce created several inter-related programs that leverage the expertise and resources of the community and region.

The committee’s first action was to host a series of roundtables designed to gather information on workforce development needs for five economic sectors: Agriculture, Healthcare, Small Business, Industry, and Education. Participants from these roundtables were identified to serve as additional members of the Committee to represent each economic sector. The committee’s first charge was clear: results from all five roundtables revealed an overwhelming issue with soft skills.  

National Manufacturing Day, JUMPSTART Scholarships, ACT Work Ready Community Designation

In 2011, the Workforce Development Committee completed an industry survey to identify skills needed by employers from all sectors. A series of three seminars was launched that focused on multi-generational workplaces. These orientation sessions were followed by more expansive programming that covered topics including How to Attract, Retain & Motivate Well Qualified Employees; Crisis Communication; Social Media; Cybersecurity; and the Opioid Crisis.

In 2011 the Gibson County Mayor’s Youth Council was formed as a result of the Mayor attending a “Ready by 21” conference facilitated by the National League of Cities in Washington DC. with information on involving youth in the decision-making of workforce development initiatives. The committee began to host student representatives from each high school twice a year to gain insight about retaining young talent in Gibson County.

In 2013 Workforce Development Committee leaders joined forces with the Northwest TN Workforce Board and Ceco Door Products to host a local Manufacturing Day. This event continues to be held in conjunction with National Manufacturing Day celebrated on the first Friday in October and provides a platform to continue discussions on local employment opportunities and engage manufacturing leaders in program efforts.

In 2016 the Gibson County Commission put in place the Gibson County JumpStart Scholarship Program to provide a $100 incentive to the first 100 students that applied who would attend a local or regional higher-education institution ranging from technical and community colleges to four-year colleges. In the first three years 300 students have received this benefit.

In August of 2016, Gibson County became a nationally recognized ACT® Work Ready Community and implemented additional programs and courses to prepare students and meet employer needs. The ACT Work Ready Communities program provides a community-based framework that links workforce development to education, matches individuals to jobs based on skill levels, and aligns with the economic development needs of communities, regions and states. With the help of the Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board, Gibson County became one of 11 West Tennessee counties that are certified through this program.

No Excuses Tour and The Way to Win at Work - Work Ethics Certification

In 2012, economic development and education leaders saw the opportunity to invest a portion of their ThreeStar grant to create a new post-secondary and career readiness program for the county’s high school seniors to continue inform them of career opportunities. In the first year, the Gibson County No Excuses Tour was presented to all 628 seniors in the six high schools, and the Way to Win at Work - Work Ethic Certification that focuses on soft skills development and provides post-secondary credit in the Work Ethics curriculum for every graduating senior was rolled out.

No Excuses Tour presentations are led by the County Mayor who communicates the importance of all types of post-secondary education and promoted a “No Excuses” attitude for furthering each student’s education. The presentation highlights future lifestyle choices available to students based on their level of education in houses, cars, jobs, hobbies and mixes humor with reality in a format that is relatable to the students. At the end of the presentation, a zip drive with a link to resources such as FASFA preparation, scholarship information and other post-secondary resources is provided to each student.

The Way to Win at Work Program focuses on soft skills needed in the workplace. The committee partnered with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Jackson to develop an online soft-skills training curriculum. After collaborating with all five school district directors, the curriculum was implemented via the personal finance class that students are required to take before graduation. An instructor at the Humboldt Higher Education Center created the new program titled "The Way to Win at Work". The program included modules that address Employer Expectations; Attendance, Time Management, and Stress; Applications and Interviews; Impressions/Perceptions; and Teamwork/Diversity. Videos imbedded into the modules from practitioners in the community that were familiar to the students reinforced the principles of the course.  

In 2012, the new online course was piloted at Milan High School (MHS) with the help of the MHS College Access Counselor who served on the Workforce Development Committee. The success of the pilot led to recommendations to implement the curriculum in all five school districts. In 2017 – 2018, every senior in Gibson County graduated with post-secondary credit hours and gained experience in completing an online course.

The Way To Win At Work Program has been a foundation for other programs across the state including the Tennessee Work Ethic Certificate and won one of the first TNECD Rural Renaissance Awards in 2017. In addition to its regional and state-wide impact, economic development leaders report that this component has been a great recruiting tool for the county.

Community Impact

Gibson County Workforce Development Committee leaders have partnered to create and implement an array of inter-related workforce development programs that engage students, faculty, employers, elected officials and economic developers. Workforce Development program 2009 - 2018 results include   

Students Served  7007
National Manufacturing Day participants (2014 - 2018) 125
JUMPSTART Scholarships (2016 – 2018) 300
ACT Work Ready Certifications (2015- 2018) 800+
No Excuses Tour participants (2012 - 2018) 4550
The Way to Win at Work Certifications (2012 - 2018) 1200
Mayors Youth Council participants (2011-2018) 32
Community Leaders Engaged  380
Workforce Development Committee (2009- 2018) 30
Workforce Roundtables (2009 – 2010) 100
Annual Manufacturing Days (2014 – 2018) 50
Seminars (2011-2018) 200
Local Governments Engaged  10
Education and Workforce Organizations Engaged 11
Economic Development Organizations Engaged 5

Program Funding

Gibson County (JUMPSTART Scholarships) $75,000
2016 TNECD ThreeStar Grant (No Excuses and the Way to Win at Work program development) $10,000
2014 TNECD ThreeStar Grant (Career Resources zip drives and professional fees) $5,000
2012 TNECD ThreeStar Grant (Career Resources zip drives and professional fees) $5,000
Local Corporate and Business In-kind Contributions (Manufacturing Day Events)  
Northwest TN Workforce Board/American Job Center In-kind Contributions (Manufacturing Day Events, Assessment and Testing Services)  
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM FUNDING (Includes projected 2011 - 2018 state grants and local contributions) $95,000

Program Leadership and Partners

Milan Chamber of Commerce – Executive Director and Workforce Development Chair - Program Contact
Gibson County Government and Joint Economic Community Development Board
Cities of Bradford, Dyer, Gibson, Humboldt, Kenton, Medina, Milan, Rutherford, Trenton, Yorkville
Greater Gibson County Area Chamber of Commerce
Humboldt Chamber of Commerce
Bradford Special School District
Gibson County Special School District
Humboldt City Schools
Milan Special School District
Trenton Special School District
Jackson Tennessee College of Applied Technology
Jackson State Community College
Dyersburg State Community College
University of Tennessee Martin – Jackson Center
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development 
Northwest TN Workforce Development Board
Northwest Tennessee Development District
Southwest Tennessee Development District – REDI Program

For more information contact the Milan Chamber of Commerce.    

TNECD ThreeStar Program

The ThreeStar Program is designed to focus on the Governor’s Five Pillars of Jobs & Economic Development, Fiscal Strength & Efficient Government, Public Safety, Education & Workforce Development, and Health & Welfare, all identified as critical to ensuring the success of Tennessee communities. TNECD ThreeStar grants help communities increase their economic and community development impact.   

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.