Reborn Workforce committee focuses on tough talk

Published 10:19 am Monday, May 19, 2014

Honest opinions are not only respected at the Workforce and Education Committee, they are asked for.
As part of its business expansion and retention efforts, Carter County Tomorrow re-established this committee at the end of 2013.
“This committee was once one of the requisite parts of the Three Star program that was put into place under Gov. (Phil) Bredesen,” said Carter County Tomorrow President Tom Anderson. “When it was no longer a requisite of the Three Star program under Gov. Bill Haslam, this committee fell by the wayside.”
Anderson said the committee’s purpose is to get representatives from local businesses and manufacturers together at the table with representatives from the area educational programs. The idea is to have an “honest and open” discussion about the skill gaps that employers are seeing in the workforce and those seeking jobs and what the education systems can do to try to correct those skill gaps and provide training to ensure a stream of employees for the future.
“The interesting thing is it is done in an informal format,” Anderson said, adding that people in attendance change, so there is always a fresh viewpoint to the proceedings. “You never have the same people at the table. Every conversation is dynamic.”
Anderson said that oftentimes the conversations start out with “I hate to say this but …” because no one likes to discuss things that can be taken as hurtful, such as pointing out the education or skills gaps present in the community. He said that having those hard conversations is essential to correcting these issues in the workforce because ignoring them will not make them go away.
“Many of the industries today are looking for education beyond the high school level,” Anderson said, adding that many industries look for people with a college education, some sort of trade school education or years of on-the-job experience. “We are trying to raise the bar in Carter County to be able to meet the future needs.”
Some of the needs that have been discussed by the committee members are what Anderson calls “soft skills” such as attendance, dress code adherence and work-appropriate behaviors. He said other topics that have been brought up are critical thinking and decision making; mathematics; and penmanship.
Anderson said that one of the things discussed recently is a lack of communication skills. He said that one of the things employers have been seeing are employees who try to communicate in writing by using “the form of short hand people use in texting.”
The skill needs of the workforce must be addressed, according to Anderson, in order for employers to have a large enough pool of potential employees to want to settle their operations here.
“One of my biggest worries is, if we were able to attract a large company, would we be able to have enough skilled employees to meet their needs?” Anderson said.
The Workforce and Education committee consists of representatives from both the city and county school systems as well as Northeast State Community College, East Tennessee State University, Milligan College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton as well as representatives of various local businesses and industries. Anderson is quick to point out there are no elected officials on the committee.
“It is not political. There is no elected official on the committee,” he said. “There is no posturing. Everyone who is there is there for the good of the community.”
The next meeting of the Workforce and Education Committee will be on Wednesday May 21.

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