County and state moving forward in jobs quest

Published 4:45 pm Friday, October 1, 2021

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This week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene for a special session to address funding, buildout and oversight of Ford Motor Company’s historic $5.6 billion investment at the Memphis Regional Megasite.
During the special session, lawmakers will address funding to support and benefit the Memphis Regional Megasite, including site development, education, and workforce preparation.
Carter County has its own megasite, on a much smaller scale than Memphis, but with the same goals — site development, education and workforce preparation. The site is at the Great Lakes Research Development Complex. The Carter County Commission and Carter County School Board have joined forces toward developing a chemistry lab at the site, which will allow Carter County students as well as Northeast State students to receive instruction in labs. These same students may one day end up working at Eastman or Nuclear Fuel Services — jobs that pay good and are close to home.
The site will also have classroom and work space for welding and cosmetology…again, the number one aim is to prepare today’s students for good jobs following graduation. There may very well be other job preparation assignments take place at the site, such as licensed practical nursing and certified nursing assistants — jobs which are much in demand today.
Vocational education isn’t what it used to be. It’s now career and technical education.
But there are a lot of other differences. Sure, carpenters are still advised to measure twice and cut once, but all of the various job skills have changed a lot as “technical” has developed more technology.
New tools and updated methods are not just changing the way people do the jobs that keep our cars on the roads and our water flowing through the pipes. They have to change the way future electricians and drafters and masons are learning.
That translates to more expensive equipment. A hammer costs less than a computer, after all. But increased equipment and technology expenses mean it costs more to provide CTE than it used to.
That is why Carter County and the state of Tennessee are wise to invest in these programs, because they are preparing students to do old jobs a new and better way.
A CNC router — think of it like a desktop printer that is carving wood instead of laying ink on paper — is the kind of thing that might be used by a pro woodworker. It is also the kind of cutting-edge tool that could capture the imagination of a student and turn woodworking from hobby to career.
Sadly, the cost of such equipment is high, which is why, in the case of the Memphis education and work site, the partnership with Ford Motor Company is much welcomed.
But it also points to a greater responsibility to prioritize the needs of CTE in high schools.
We can postulate what the future of many college majors will be over time, but plumbing will always be important, houses will always need to be built, and electricity will need to buzz through the wires. How all of that happens will change, however.
What could change is whether students are not only offered the opportunity to enter those fields, but made to feel intrigued and excited to do so. That’s an investment in the future we can’t afford not to make.
Carter County officials are making a great investment in the future of our workforce with the proposed chemistry lab and the other classes planned at the workforce development complex.

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