TBR’s Office of Economic & Community Development hosts Workforce Development Conference

LEGO team building at TNTrained Workforce Development Conference

A new online workforce training initiative tailored to specific industries, building apprenticeship programs, and the latest industrial technology were focus topics at the TNTrained Workforce Development Conference hosted by the Tennessee Board of Regents Office of Economic & Community Development at Nashville State Community College this week.

About 75 economic development and higher education professionals participated in the conference Wednesday and Thursday. Other agenda topics included re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated individuals, a priority of Gov. Bill Lee’s administration, and building local partnerships for workforce development.

The conference featured a preview of the new TBR Center for Workforce Solutions, which offers opportunities for specific businesses, industries and organizations to provide their employees tailored, online training -- to learn new skills and upgrade existing skills.

The center is a joint project of the TBR Office of Economic & Community Development and TBR’s TN eCampus, the online degree partnership of the College System of Tennessee and Tennessee public universities.

“The online training will allow employees to upgrade their skills and learn new things that will help them on their jobs, make them eligible for promotions or to enter a different field,” said Dr. Carol Puryear, vice chancellor of TBR’s Office of Economic & Community Development.

Dr. Greg Sedrick, TBR associate vice chancellor for academic affairs who leads TN eCampus, presented the overview of the new center and how TN eCampus staff will work with businesses to develop programs specifically for their employees.

The conference was part of the Student Success and Workforce Development mission of the College System of Tennessee, governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents. The system’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology are primary providers of the academic, career and technical education programs in the state’s Drive to 55 initiative – a goal that 55 percent of working-age Tennesseans have a college degree or certificate by 2025.

Dr. Rebecca Lake, dean of workforce and economic development at Harper College in Illinois, gave conference attendees details on building effective registered apprenticeship programs in their communities.

Beth Duffield, senior vice president for education & workforce development at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, facilitated a discussion on establishing partnerships among local governments, other local organizations and higher education to build strong workforce talent pipelines in their communities.

Christine Hopkins, executive director of Middle Tennessee Rural Reentry, addressed the conference on training inmates for jobs to help their return to communities and reduce recidivism.

In a session called “Industry 4.0,” Tony Oran, vice president of sales and marketing at Festo, a global provider of intelligent automation solutions for manufacturers, updated attendees about “smart” factories and new technologies in which systems and machines communicate with operators and with each other.

John Churchill, chief operating officer of Memphis-based TechEd2Go, led group team-building and communication exercises that required team members to build LEGO towers based on verbal instructions.  

Other speakers included Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Jeff McCord, Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe, and Jerre Maynor, director of student readiness and pathways at the Tennessee Department of Education.

Among the conference’s attendees were some alumni of TBR’s TNTrained program, which provides professionals in higher education and state and local economic development agencies a common knowledge base of best practices, strategies and skills in working with businesses interested in locating or expanding in Tennessee and creating new jobs.  The program trained two separate cohorts in 2018 and a third will launch later in July. The conference gave the TNTrained alumni new learning and networking opportunities.

Festo and Reletech, a Nashville company providing educational training equipment, helped sponsor the conference.

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.