How are teachers supposed to help students figure out a career if the teachers themselves have limited knowledge of the workforce requirements and opportunities in their own backyard?
This spring, twenty educators from Hamblen Country received word that they were selected to spend some of their free time after school and during the first full week of summer break learning about the local landscape of careers.
The Hamblen County Workforce Development & Education Partnership provides funding and support, along with Hamblen County Schools and HC*Excell, to provide this opportunity to a select number of educators. This year our group of twenty included teachers from kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school. We had regular classroom teachers, as well as specialists, including, an art teacher, a media specialist, and guidance counselors.
We started with a forum of speakers, including County Mayor Bill Britton, City Mayor Gary Chesney, HR Specialist from Team Technologies, Mattea McCann and a 2018 Teacher Extern, Sarah Cooper. Teachers learned how this program developed and the need for a well trained workforce matters. That training starts early.
The training for many extends beyond K-12 public schools. For that reason, we spent two afternoons, after their regular teaching day, first, at TCAT (Tennessee College of Applied Technology). There, Chris Edmonds, the LEAP Grant Project Manager took us on a tour and explained the myriad of training opportunities. Graduates from TCAT have almost 99% success rate in finding employment in their field. Many students acquire a guaranteed position in a local company even before graduation.
On another afternoon, Avery Swinson, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Development at Walters State Community College share the many opportunities for students there, complete with a tour. Students can earn Associate Degrees and certificates to enter the workforce, and some continue on to a four year university.
Later in the year, we heard from other community members, including Chuck Carter, CTE Supervisor; Marshall Ramsey, President of the Morristown Chamber of Commerce; Justin Cook, Senior VP, Commercial Banking, First Tennessee Bank; Tom Strate, President of the Strate Insurance Group, Inc.; and Gordon Lintz, Gordon Lintz, Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System President and CAO. All of these speakers were able to paint a broader picture of career opportunities outside of manufacturing.
For insight into advanced manufacturing, teams of three or four educators spent four days in exploring many facets of engineering and production at one of six different local plants. They included: Arconic, ColorTech, Kawasaki, MAHLE, Meritor, and Rich's Products.
Teachers presented to the community their impressions and how they planned to integrate the many lessons learned into the classroom. Over and over, they said they had no idea the need for critical thinking skills, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and performed with integrity and effective social skills. One teacher, Trista Godbey from West View Middle School stated what many were thinking. "Everything I saw was new to me. I went in with no experience and no idea what to expect. I left with a renewed sense of importance with regard to the work force and how we are capable of impacting our students and their decision-making process." An experience like this is helping these teachers inform students about the real possibilities of a satisfying career here in Morristown.