Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has concluded a series of seven candid conversations he held across the state with employers and educators to better link post-secondary education to high-quality jobs.
"It is our responsibility to produce a quality workforce that meets the needs of Tennessee employers and is attractive to companies interested in doing business here," Haslam said. "While there are examples of productive programs and partnerships already in place, we need to do a better job of connecting employers and educators to prepare our graduates for the jobs of the future.
"It is important that we are defining reality for our students so they are aware of possible job opportunities along with the skills and knowledge those jobs require. We also have to be intentional about allocating funding and resources to effectively address these issues."
The series of statewide discussions spanned six weeks and were held in Blountville, Jackson, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, Cookeville and Chattanooga. Participants included business executives from small, medium and large companies along with representatives from public universities, community colleges, technology centers and K-12 schools as well as legislators.
In each location, the governor heard about programs and partnerships between employers and educators that are having a positive impact. He also heard a number of concerns from business leaders about the lack of skills among job candidates ranging from the basics of reading, writing and communicating to critical thinking and problem solving to expertise in science, technology, engineering and math. Another common theme was that the state and post-secondary education institutions must connect more closely with companies to anticipate years in advance what skills and competencies will be needed for future jobs as innovation continues.
When asked for potential solutions to these problems, business leaders and educators expressed varying ideas, including the need to better track available jobs in specific industry sectors along with keeping up with the skills required to fill those jobs; increased investments in technology and capacity to address waiting lists in certain job areas; the value of co-ops, internships, mentors and guidance counselors; and the need for educators and business leaders to better communicate on a regular and intentional basis.
These conversations followed a meeting Haslam convened in June of members of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) along with leaders from the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA), Tennessee Business Roundtable, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and legislative leadership from the House and Senate to discuss these workforce development issues along with the importance of a comprehensive and coordinated focus on the issues of access, affordability and the quality of our Tennessee colleges, universities and technology centers.
As the governor continues to focus on post-secondary education issues, the insight gained from these meetings will be valuable as he moves into the next phase of evaluating the state's most effective role in bridging gaps between available jobs of Tennessee employers and putting Tennesseans to work in those jobs.