Working to strengthen the workforce of the region

Robert Houk • Aug 29, 2019 at 12:00 AM

More than 200 area students, educators and business leaders gathered at Grace Meadows Farm in Washington County on Wednesday to engage in a regional dialogue on workforce development.

Lottie Ryans, director of workforce development for the First Tennessee Development District, said the daylong Education2Employment Summit involves local schools, governments and businesses in a conversation on the best strategies to prepare the local workforce for new economic opportunities.

“We are all trying to figure out ways to create the strongest workforce pipeline for our region,” Ryans said.

Student Participation

Included in that discussion were 70 students from an eight-county region in Northeast Tennessee, many of whom are involved in career technical education programs. Among them were students from Science Hill, Elizabethton, David Crockett and Daniel Boone high schools, who helped cater a lunch for attendees of the summit.

Students from Tennessee High School also demonstrated their health sciences program to both business leaders and area schoolchildren, including students from Greeneville’s Highland Elementary School. Likewise, Sullivan Central High School student Billy Easley was on hand to talk about his school’s SkillsUSA program, which helps students get started in careers in the culinary arts, carpentry, cosmetology and welding.

“This program can prepare you for college, or provide real world technical training,” Easley said.

Brittany Norris and her classmates from Sullivan East High School were at the summit to answer questions regarding their school’s fire sciences program. Norris said Sullivan East is the only high school in Tennessee offering such a program for firefighting training.

Brandon Renfro, a fire sciences instructor, said the Sullivan East program is in its fifth year, with 68 students.

“We’ve had graduates go to work for the Kingsport Fire Department, Washington County Emergency Medical Services, Sullivan County Emergency Medical Services and the Ambulance Service of Bristol,” he said.

American Job Centers

The Northeast Tennessee Local Workforce Development Board helped to organize the workforce summit. Kathy Pierce, the executive director of the board, said her organization is a public/private partnership that oversees American Job Centers in Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties.

These AJCs assist people looking for work or who need help in completing post-secondary education programs.

Pierce said the centers are also a resource for employers who are looking to recruit a qualified workforce. Her board can also help businesses find grant funding to help train the employees they need.

“We target young people to help them get the hands-on training they need,” she said. “We also work with employers to help provide that training.”

She said the workforce development board is focused on meeting the unique needs of businesses and people seeking jobs in the rural counties of Northeast Tennessee.

“We help put people who have lost their jobs back on the path to employment,” Pierce said.

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