Here's how we can ensure K12 and higher education rise to meet employers' needs
Written by Robert Eby and David Mansouri
Tennessee is home to some of the country’s most successful businesses and largest corporations, yet employers often tell us that too many graduates from our local schools and higher education institutions do not possess the durable skills like critical thinking and teamwork or the in-demand, technical skills needed to acquire and retain viable, lucrative jobs.
In fact, a Boyd Center survey of Tennessee business leaders revealed that nearly seven out of 10 leaders believed there are not enough appropriately trained workers in today’s job market. Further, more than 40% of these executives believe that stronger education and training are needed to expand the supply of future workers who are prepared for jobs with the most in-demand skills.
Fortunately, many employers, parents, state leaders, and policymakers are working to align their efforts to provide students with solid foundations for successful futures.
Tennessee employers are taking big steps to partner with K-12 and higher education to prepare today's students to meet their talent needs. Across K-12 and higher education, several of these innovative, industry-led models are surfacing to meet both student interest and workforce needs and many of the most innovative models in the country are right here in Tennessee.
There are currently 11 Robertson County students enrolled in a dual enrollment program through the Tennessee College of Applied Technology.
Models include middle college programs where students earn an associate degree at the same time as they earn their high school diploma; Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment classes that prepare students for traditional post-secondary degree programs; and other partnership programs where students earn industry credentials.
For example, Chattanooga’s Construction Career Center in Hamilton County Schools provides 11th- and 12th-grade students with coursework that enables them to earn at least five certifications in construction while still in high school. Students attend high school in the morning or afternoon and are provided transportation to the center for the other half of the school day.
Similarly, high school seniors attending Jackson-Madison County Schools can participate in the Local Options & Opportunities Program (LOOP). LOOP allows students to earn high school credit for completing a paid work-based learning opportunity. Industry placements include working on-site at some of Madison County’s largest employers, such as West Tennessee Healthcare and Jackson Energy Authority.
We know urban, suburban, and rural communities in Tennessee may have different needs. In rural Hardeman County, local employers may need to fill positions in areas such as crop and animal production, while in Davidson County, the health care industry is Nashville's largest employer, contributing to 167,916 direct jobs annually.
We must ensure students, educators, and employers have the flexibility and support needed to make sure the unique needs of each of our communities are met.
There are many great reasons why our state has become a magnet for business and attracted so many new residents. But as Tennessee’s dynamic economy continues to grow, it’s critical that K-12 and higher education rise to meet employer needs by providing greater skills-based, workforce-relevant learning opportunities to students throughout our state.
In September, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), will bring together business and education leaders from across the state for the Future Forward Summit to explore ways in which industry and education can partner to improve better educational and workforce outcomes for students and employers.
We hope that real ideas and solutions can be brought to the table to help more employers partner with local educators to ensure all Tennessee students receive credentials of value in high school and higher education so they can be better prepared for Tennessee’s rapidly expanding job market.
For over a decade, Tennessee has led the way in educational innovations. Now it’s time to zero in on the needs of our future workforce by aligning education with clear career pathways.
We are confident that with key business stakeholders working together with state leaders and local educators, Tennessee’s students will not only receive a high-quality education, but also the skills and experiences they need for a lifetime of career success.
Robert Eby from Oak Ridge is chair of the Tennessee State Board of Education. David Mansouri from Nashville is president and CEO of SCORE, Tennessee’s State Collaborative on Reforming Education.