Business and Economy NewsTracker

Improving Education a Key Theme at ECD Convention

Tennessee needs to develop a more skilled workforce to attract the jobs of the future, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday at the 60th annual Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development conference.

“Only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a two-year, four-year degree or technical certificate,” Haslam said. “That means a whole lot of jobs are going somewhere else.”

To bring those jobs here, the governor lauded his “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to encourage Tennesseans to pursue advanced education after high school.

“A lack of training beyond high school limits opportunities,” he said.

Tennessee is projected needed 55 percent of its workforce trained beyond high school to attract and retain jobs by 2025. If the state stays on track, it will only have 39 percent with a certificate or degree beyond high school in 2025.

To accomplish this, the state as a whole has to change expectations for what comes after high school and help the 940,000 adult Tennesseans who have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an advanced degree.

For this part of the equation, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris championed the Labor Education Alignment Program last session. LEAP aims to meet the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements by allowing adults to transfer technical training to four-year degrees.

“LEAP provides the pathways we need to enable Tennesseans to work, earn and learn,” Norris said.

The program was recognized Friday by a report from the Brookings Institutions’ Advanced Industries Series for meeting the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements.

“Brookings confirms this and suggests strategies to implement action between the public and private sectors designed to maintain competitiveness and move Tennessee forward,” the Collierville Republican said.

In his speech Friday, Haslam said public and private partnerships are exactly why businesses are coming to Tennessee.

The public and private sectors have worked together over the years to create excellent infrastructure and raise the quality of life in the state, he said. Both have also invested heavily in education.

State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, agreed, pointing to the state-funded technical education center that is being built in Smyrna. The $38 million education center is a joint venture by the Tennessee Technology Center in Murfreesboro and Nissan.

“This is the largest investment in Smyrna since Nissan opened,” Sparks said, adding the tech center will provide training on maintaining high-tech manufacturing equipment like robots and other computer-controlled processes.

“We want to be the best location in the Southeast for quality jobs,” Haslam said, which means tech centers need to focus on emerging sectors of the economy.

The Smyrna tech center is doing just that, Sparks said, by teaching skills that can be used at area manufacturing facilities like Nissan, Bridgestone and General Mills and distribution facilities like the ones opened by Amazon.

“We have a lot going for us right now,” Haslam said.

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