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March 28, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Knoxville Chamber issues significant report titled “Workforce Redefined . . . A Path to Prosperity Strategy”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Late last week, the Knoxville Chamber released a significant report crafted by a 20-person committee that represented a cross section of the community.

Titled “Workforce Redefined . . . A Path to Prosperity Strategy,” the roadmap addresses one of the key priorities of the Chamber’s five-year strategic plan, appropriately named “Path to Prosperity.” To realize the full potential of the five pillars that are the foundation of the plan, the region must have a well-trained, vibrant workforce with the skills required for the jobs of the future.

Since soon after he arrived here from Round Rock, TX, I’ve had multiple conversations with Mike Odom, Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber, and it is obvious that he has adopted the famous advice that is attributed to Wayne Gretzky: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” That philosophy clearly underscores the pillars of the “Path to Prosperity” and the just released report.

“‘Workforce Redefined’ reflects many months of conversations, interviews, and surveys with employers, education institutions, workforce services providers, and government leaders,” said Amy Nolan, the Chamber’s Vice President for Regional Enhancement. “The strategy highlights six priorities that have considerable consensus regarding their ability to ensure a qualified, regional workforce both now and in the future. Creating and maintaining that workforce is key to the attraction of new business and industry, the growth of current businesses, and to higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs for our community.”

Those priorities start with understanding what the report describes as “The Big Picture.” Quoting from the report, the group noted the following: “As with any strategy, funding is an issue, and that is why stakeholders agreed that a central component of the ‘Workforce Redefined’ strategy is to take a holistic view of workforce development – understanding and eliminating barriers to employment not just related to education, but also around such issues as transportation, childcare and, even, food insecurity.”

To do so, they conclude that the workforce development must be more responsive and flexible, with better coordination and sharing of information among service providers. Other holistic components to address the overall strategy include: (1) pivoting the focus to needs and outcomes, not money and goals; and (2) expand the labor pool by supporting populations with barriers.

Other key areas of emphasis are:

  • Empowering employers to participate in regional workforce development efforts to better meet the long-term needs of the regional business community.
  • Placing more emphasis on career awareness, exploration and training so young people are more aware of the opportunities that will exist in the future. That section is appropriately titled “You Can’t Be What You Can’t See.”
  • “Unpacking College Degrees” which is a catchy phrase encompassing everything from working more closely with employers to identify common, frequently acceptable certifications to creating rapid response teams to upskill and reskill displaced employees and securing more funding for certificate programs.
  • “Eliminating Inequities” for many. Recommended actions include: (1) expanding career awareness and exploration opportunities in underserved schools; (2) encouraging participation of women and minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); (3) actively seeking to remove barriers, such as transportation and broadband availability, that impact access for individuals to education, training and workplaces; (4) supporting equitable educational opportunities for all students, including adult learners who did not complete a secondary education credential, to acquire a level of basic skills needed to enter the workforce; and (5) supporting efforts for more minority representation in education, training and workforce services.
  • Championing a strong educational foundation that starts with top-tier reading and math skills for public education students as measure by national recognized standards.

“Great work in this arena is already underway in our region and those efforts can be amplified, modeled, and scaled,” Nolan said. “Innovation, particularly to create more collaboration among stakeholders, will also be needed to implement these recommendations.”

She added that the strategy has been well-received by stakeholders, and networks are already being developed to attack common challenges.

The group was chaired by Rob Stivers of Regions Bank and included in alphabetical order: (1) Andrea Baker Bush Brothers & Company; (2) David Butler of the Knoxville Museum of Art; (3)  Claudia Caballero of Centro Hispano de East Tennessee; (4) Tom Cambron of Pipe Wrench Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Inc.; (5) Chris Carrizales of Keurig; (6) Pepper Kathy Crookshanks of ShoffnerKalthoff; (7) Ashley Geyer Jones of Pilot Companies; (8) Rebecca Harmon of DeRoyal; (9) CA Houston of Edison Electric; (10) Mike Howard of EPRI; (11) David Hunt of WBIR-TV; (12) Dylan Jones of Boldsquare; (13) Phyllis Nichols of the Knoxville Area Urban League; (14) Alica Shamblin of the University of Tennessee (UT); (15) Izetta Slade, also from UT; (16) Jenny Swanson of Radio Systems Corporation; (17) Kris Torgerson of UT-Battelle/Oak Ridge National Laboratory; (18) Kristin Waldschlager of Consolidated Nuclear Services/Y-12; and (19) Debi Welch from Covenant Health.

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