UT-Sponsored Forums: To Develop a More Competitive Workforce, State Needs More Education-Economic Ties

KNOXVILLE — Increase educational opportunities — and do it with an eye on training a workforce well-equipped for the state’s current and future jobs.

That was the overriding need expressed by participants in forums held in 12 Tennessee communities in February. The forums — held to brainstorm ways the state can build a more competitive workforce — were hosted by The University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service (IPS), the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Tennessee Tomorrow, UT’s Institute of Agriculture, and local and regional organizations, in partnership with the Southern Growth Policies Board (SGPB). The university also coordinated data from several other forums hosted by civic groups.

The results are published in a report titled “Building the Next Workforce,” which is being distributed through forum partners and is available online at http://www.ips.tennessee.edu/economicdevelopment.

The report summarizes issues discussed at the forums, as well as comments collected from more than 400 questionnaires distributed before and after the forums. More than 250 people attended forums in Dyersburg, Jackson, Paris, Waynesboro, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Cookeville, Cleveland, Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Maryville, and Blountville.

Community participants identified five key themes for building a competitive workforce in Tennessee:

• Address social, economic and institutional barriers to educational attainment.

• Connect education to economic conditions by making people aware of career opportunities and requirements, and by fostering the mindset for lifelong learning.

• Tie education and skill training to what employers need.

• Build partnerships between education, business and community groups.

• Ensure that students, schools and communities have the resources they need to be successful.

“Fortunately, UT already has some programs in place that can help address these issues,” said Mary Jinks, IPS associate vice president. “Various IPS initiatives, such as leadership development programs and professional training for industry workers, are giving working Tennesseans opportunities to continue their education and refine their skills for careers in the 21st century.”

In other efforts to ensure greater access to the university, UT’s Knoxville campus has added $1 million to support its new Tennessee Pledge and Promise scholarship programs. The Pledge Scholarship, started in the fall of 2005, provides for the cost of attendance — including tuition and fees and room and board — for any admitted student whose income level is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. The Promise scholarship, being offered this fall for the first time, is intended to increase enrollments from high schools around Tennessee that have not historically sent many students to the university.

“In the knowledge economy, an educated, skilled workforce is critical to economic development,” said Beth Phillips, IPS economic development specialist. “We were pleased to help host these forums, and we are eager to join leading academic institutions, state agencies, and economic development organizations in addressing the issues identified during the forums.”

The workforce development forums were part of SGPB’s annual effort to engage communities throughout the South in discussions on issues related to economic development.

The non-partisan SGPB was formed by Southern governors in 1971 to unite governors, legislators and business and academic leaders in discussions that encourage economic development in the South.


Contacts:
Queena Jones, (865) 974-1533, queena.jones@tennessee.edu
Beth Phillips, (865) 974-0268, beth.phillips@tennessee.edu

For contact information of forum sponsors and partners in your area, contact Queena Jones.