Seventy-four educators and economic and workforce development professionals have been awarded certificates as the first graduates of TNTrained, a new initiative of the College System of Tennessee and its partners, the state Department of Economic and Community Development and the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
TNTrained’s mission is to create a unified approach to recruiting and retaining businesses and jobs to the state by providing professionals in public higher education and state agencies with a common knowledge base of practices, strategies and skills for working with industries considering Tennessee for new locations and expansions. The program, led by the College System’s Office of Economic and Community Development, also developed a toolbox of resources for graduates to use as they work together in recruiting business.
The program will make it easier for the state agencies in charge of recruiting new business and industry to pull in the resources of the state’s community and technical colleges earlier in the recruitment process. The colleges are often involved in providing specialized training for employees and potential employees of new industries.
The inaugural class of TNTrained students opened Jan. 31 for 40 hours of training, spread over four separate sessions during the next 2½ months. The class concluded April 9 when the students gathered at Tennessee College of Applied Technology Murfreesboro’s new Smyrna Campus to present their capstone projects and receive their certificates.
Addressing the graduates were Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings, Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe, Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips, TBR Vice Chancellor for Economic and Community Development Carol Puryear and Assistant Vice Chancellor Nathan Garrett. The Board of Regents governs the system’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.
The graduates included 64 administrators, instructors and staff from the community and technical colleges, including 10 college presidents; five officials from the Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD); two from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development; two from the TBR system office, and one from the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services.
The capstone projects were case studies in economic development projects. Students worked in small teams during the preceding sessions to plan how they would work with specific industrial prospects, then presented their plans at the final session.
Tydings thanked the graduates and the College System’s state partners, including the two commissioners, for their commitment and support for TNTrained. “Thanks to the hard work of those in this room, a system approach to workforce development has been developed. With your efforts, TNTrained has created the foundation for how we as a system will advance a unified approach to attracting and retaining business and industry. Developing a shared culture and language that leverages the strengths of your institution or department is one of the best pillars that you have built. The goal is to provide the best workforce development program in the world. TNTrained and the institutions that make this brand strong stand as a statewide system that uses a common process and shared tools and that has the ability to create relevant training for industry at a moment’s notice,” the chancellor said.
Phillips agreed. “This is a great day and this is a great group of people. I would suspect that we are one of the first states – as we are in many things – to do something like this. It is incredibly important and so very much needed. Congratulations to all of you,” he said.
Rolfe said TNTrained is the latest in a line of “game changers” in Tennessee economic development. “In today’s world, recruiting new companies has become enormously competitive. What’s different about today is, when we go to recruit these companies with our colleagues inside of ECD, we now include Labor and Workforce Development and TBR. What I’m so excited about is we include your professionals and your teams on the front end.”
Puryear, who helped develop TNTrained, told the graduates, “I started the session in January by saying we had the best workforce leaders in the room. As I stand here today and after watching the presentations, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, you are the best and I am proud to have been a part of the TNTrained sessions with you.”
Garrett, who played a key role in developing TNTrained, closed the ceremony. "Due to the hard work of you have put forth, we have a firm foundation that will allow us to present a unified approach when working with business and industry. The importance of being able to represent ourselves as a unified system made up of 40 different colleges can not be overstated," he said.
Front-end involvement by colleges and universities is important, the officials agreed, because companies are focused on education and quality of the workforce as they decide where to invest in new or expanded locations.
For example, when the Belgian manufacturer Van Hool NV announced its decision last week to build its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Morristown, Tenn., CEO Filip Van Hool said, “The presence of highly regarded technical colleges and well-trained workers in Hamblen County, together with the support and cooperation of all parties involved, convinced the Van Hool executive board to make the largest investment outside Belgium” in the company’s 71-year history.
The company is investing $47 million in a facility to manufacture public transit and commuter vehicles for U.S. transit agencies. The decision will create 640 jobs in the Morristown area over five years.
The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.