Building the Workforce of Tomorrow in our Public Schools

Tuesday, September 17, 2019 | 10:54am

By Gordon Ferguson, State Board of Education Member for the Fourth Congressional District

Technology changes at a rapid pace and the expectations of the workforce evolve along with these advancements. In order to ensure that our students are prepared to enter the workforce in careers that are both personally fulfilling to them and enable them to care for themselves and their families, we must constantly adapt our education and workforce development strategies.

As the president and CEO of Saint Thomas Rutherford and the Saint Thomas Health regional hospitals, I have witnessed these changes firsthand in the onboarding and training process. New healthcare professionals must not only be proficient in their area of work but also adept at various technological skills. Longstandingindustries in our society, such as healthcare and manufacturing, traditionally required specific skill sets unique to that field. Today, however, work in every field also requires evolving skills and specializations, like data analytics and systems monitoring.

In K-12 education, the state of Tennessee continues to make progress in creating and adapting programs to better prepare our students for the jobs of the future. Earlier this year, Governor Bill Lee announced his first legislative initiative, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Act, which will take effect next year. The GIVE Act expands career and technical education (CTE) opportunities for high school students by fully funding four CTE dual enrollment credits per student. Dual enrollment courses are an advanced coursework option typically delivered by postsecondary faculty and eligible for credit at Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT), community colleges, or four-year institutions. Some of these courses include mechatronics, automotive technology, pharmacy tech, and graphic design.

The State Board of Education is pursuing opportunities to expose students to the skills and abilities necessary for the workforce across the K-12 continuum. Sparking interest in career and technical education at an early age is important to developing curiosity and excitement for younger students. Earlier this year, the State Board of Education passed the K-5 STEM course as a permanent course option that allows students in the earliest grades to explore STEM topics and careers.

In terms of higher education, the State Board had the opportunity to see workforce preparedness in another line of work at the TCAT-Murfreesboro at Smyrna at our annual joint meeting with the Tennessee HigherEducation Commission (THEC) this summer. The TCAT facility hosts a multitude of career and technical programs as well as the Nissan Training Center. Through a public-private partnership, the TCAT and Nissan are able to provide educational opportunities that meet current workforce needs.

Finally, we must have CTE teachers ready to work with our students. This can sometimes be an area where districts experience teacher shortages. To remedy that issue, Rutherford County Schools recently became the first public school district in Tennessee to take advantage of a new option for local education agencies (LEAs)to become their own educator preparation provider (EPP). This designation as an EPP will allow RutherfordCounty Schools to develop a pathway to address their shortages of CTE teachers and create more opportunities to expand their CTE offerings. I am honored to serve Rutherford County residents as their State
Board of Education representative and I hope they can serve as an example for other school districts in the state. When our schools work with local workforces, we can address high demand vacancies and better prepare our students for the future.