Annie Kinworthy of the Chattanooga Public Education Foundation spoke to the group about a new initiative for students in the Chattanooga area — the Cleveland and Bradley County school systems included.
As part of the Pathways for Prosperity program, which is a statewide program that seeks to prepare students for future careers, Kinworthy said the foundation will be assisting area school systems and businesses by educating both teachers and students on how to succeed in fields like manufacturing.
One of the program’s efforts will be to let teachers know what their students’ career options are by giving them tours of area manufacturing facilities.
The new Tennessee Teacher Field Trips initiative allows companies to open their businesses to teachers for guided tours so they can clear up any misconceptions educators have about manufacturing. Kinworthy pointed out that plants are not generally “dingy” and “dirty” places like some might think.
She said the tours that have taken place so far have been beneficial to both the companies and the educators.
Four such tours have taken place so far, including one at Cleveland’s Cormetech plant. Teachers can sign up for any future tours at www.TNteacherfieldtrips.org.
Another area of focus for the foundation this school year will be teaching students how to act in professional settings in addition to letting them know about possible opportunities.
Kinworthy said while students may have work-related knowledge in a particular area, they may be lacking in the “soft skills” they need to succeed like knowing how to act and dress professionally.
“This skills gap is common everywhere,” Kinworthy said.
She told the story of a young man who showed up to an interview in pajamas as an example. The interviewer was forgiving and told him she saw potential in him despite his wardrobe. He was invited back for another interview at 8 a.m. the next day so he could be in proper attire. The next day, he showed up properly dressed, but he was then four hours late for his interview.
Though students are used to needing to be at school at a certain time, Kinworthy said the importance of being on time is still overlooked by many.
The goal of the Pathways partnership, she said, is to let both teachers and students know about the expectations employers have for students.
The foundation will partner with area school systems to provide programming in addition to the existing career and technical education programs in local high schools.
Kinworthy asked that local business leaders consider involving their businesses in the program by considering what they can do to help local teachers and students, whether it be by offering tours or starting an internship program.
Johnny McDaniel, a council member and director of the Bradley County school system, explained the county school system has already been working with the program, calling it Pathways Bradley.
Kinworthy said the program will allow students to practice skills like applying for jobs by doing things like filling out an applications to be part of program, participating in interviews, taking part in job shadowing and possibly doing internships during their senior years.
McDaniel said building such skills is a priority for the school system, and career-related programs will see a boost in funding this year from the Youth CareerConnect grant, a federally funded grant that provided more than $4 million for equipment and other resources.
Doug Berry, vice president of economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said he was in favor of any efforts being made to improve the educations of students so they can be ready for future careers.
He said he and other Chamber officials have been in talks with various companies that have been considering moving to Cleveland but have also expressed concerns about the number of qualified potential employees.
For example, he said a company that produces automotive parts recently expressed concerns over the number of machinists and other professionals who could be hired to make its products.
Berry said he was concerned that students in local schools might not be getting the training they need to attract automotive parts companies looking to settle into the area due to the proximity of Chattanooga’s Volkswagen automotive plant.
“That’s about half the leads we’re getting,” Berry said.
McDaniel pointed out that the Bradley County school system currently has automotive-related career and technical education programs in its two high schools, and it will be looking at ways to improve the training that is available to students.
He said the Youth CareerConnect grant will allow the school system to improve upon the training area. The grant, he said, will allow for the purchase of more up-to-date equipment.
Berry stressed that education plays an important part in economic development because it provides skilled workers for local companies.
In addition to companies looking into building plants in Bradley County, Berry said the Chamber is currently in talks with nine existing local manufacturers that are looking for ways to expand.