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Knoxville Regional
Transportation Planning Organization

400 Main St, Suite 403
Knoxville, TN 37902

phone: (865) 215-2500
fax: (865) 215-2068

PlanET Perspectives:

Lifting the Veil on the Job Environment in Tennessee

By Julie Graham
Legacy Coordinator, Plan East Tennessee
Posted 10/04/2013

Over the last 29 months, ordinary citizens have been telling their stories and expressing their wishes for this region they call home. From county to county in the PlanET region, there has been an unwavering view that East Tennessee is the place that they want to “live, work, and play.” But it was also recognized that more jobs and better schools would enhance the quality of life and grow prosperity in the region.

Community data representing over 10,000 voices from the PlanET counties clearly shows that the majority of East Tennesseans understand the importance of having great schools, and they assert that the best way to improve the economic prosperity of the region is to improve them.

To achieve prosperity, the ideal would be for businesses to have a “pipeline” of skilled workers and for the local workforce to have the ability to find jobs paying a living wage. When analyzing the current workforce demands of this region, there are many jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree but do require some post-secondary training. Specifically, CDL drivers and certified welders are in high demand today and pay great wages. The ongoing recruiting efforts of the regional Economic Development Agencies assure that these careers will still be in high demand in the coming years. Students, displaced workers, and individuals seeking career planning would benefit if they were made aware of opportunities earlier in their academic and training programs. In the Livability Report for the region, there is a recognized risk that a lack of trained workers, combined with the higher than average age of our workforce, could result in continuing loss of manufacturing, transportation/trade, and energy jobs, and that these lost jobs are being replaced with low-skill, low-paying jobs.

Specifically, the challenge facing the region is how business, economic professionals, parents, and educational advocates can partner together to build a system that will create skill-specific training pathways linking workers to the local labor market and allow for economic development partners to successfully recruit sector-specific industries.

Rising to the challenge, Business, Education, Parent groups, and Community Leaders from the five PlanET counties convened during three working sessions to craft actionable steps that are critical to building economic opportunities for the region’s businesses and workforce. From the three sessions, areas of discussion ranged from creating career paths to teaching soft skills. With technology has come rapid changes to the work environment that includes robotics, information technology, and a need for workers who are not only trained for these specific areas, but the ability to work on teams and problem solve. Manufacturing, healthcare, and the energy industry are three areas that have experienced radical changes when compared to a decade ago.

During the final meeting on September 13 at Denso Manufacturing, the participants selected specific tactical strategies that can be adopted by the individual school systems to help transition students from academics to a career, as well as a call to open our businesses, economic development agencies, and our schools to allow the public and the emerging workforce to know which jobs will be in demand and what training will be required. Since parents play such an integral part in a child’s career choices, they too need to become aware of the changing work landscape. As one company representative stated, “It is not your father’s manufacturing anymore.”

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Copyright 2013 by Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission
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