Leaders Look for Ways to Tie Grads’ Skills to Employers’ Needs

Industry, the public workforce system and higher education leaders from across Middle Tennessee gathered last week to help identify and close the gap between the skills Tennessee’s college students learn and what employers need for their workforce.

The group heard from Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan about the impact their efforts can have on the state’s economy.

“The Regional Workforce Alliance is attacking what I think is one of the critical issues facing the state – making certain that the workforce that we’re producing is the workforce that the market needs,” Governor Haslam told the group. “Ultimately I think it will mean more jobs for Tennesseans and make this a better place for companies to locate.”

The 77 leaders who make up the Middle Tennessee Regional Workforce Alliance separated into three skills panels focused on the targeted fields of advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology, strategic industry sectors the Nashville Area Chamber has identified as the most critical for Middle Tennessee’s growth.

In advanced manufacturing, the region is adding jobs and opportunities, but the new positions are different from the manufacturing workers of the past, for example. The new jobs require technical aptitude, computer skills, and problem solving, according to a study by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Healthcare graduates needed to fill the future demand of more than 5,000 registered nurses and 2,000 nursing aids in Middle Tennessee alone will need the mastery of their chosen healthcare field, but also problem-solving, technology and management skills, according to the report.

By 2019, some 7,000 more information technology professionals with advanced skills and training will be needed to meet the workforce demand.

“The goal of this meeting is to build an infrastructure within which this conversation takes place today, but takes place tomorrow, and continues to take place so there’s a constant feedback loop so we get a better sense of what we need to be doing, and how well we’re doing,” said Morgan, who leads the state’s largest higher education system of public universities, community colleges and colleges of applied technology.

“Business can help us understand what their needs are today, but importantly also anticipate what those needs may be in two, three or five years so that we can begin to structure our programs in the most effective way we can.”

The skills panels will continue to meet throughout the year to address the issues and monitor activities aimed at closing the skills gap.



The Tennessee Board of Regents is among the nation’s largest higher education systems, governing 46 post-secondary educational institutions. The TBR system includes six universities, 13 community colleges and the 27 colleges of applied technology, providing programs to more than 200,000 students across the state.

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.