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Weekend edition January 05, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

‘Knoxworx’ is filling in workforce gaps

The organization is in the process of building a new center to expand operations.

The Knoxville Technology Council found in a study that some of the biggest workforce gaps in the East Tennessee region are in industries related to technology and manufacturing.

KnoxWorx, a local non-profit operated by the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, is working to tackle that problem. Richard Consoli, the Assistant Vice President of KnoxWorx connected with to share the impact Knoxworx has on filling workforce gaps.

“There are many skilled people that have some hurdles to overcome to obtain employment,” Consoli said. “There’s a lot of issues. A lot of the participants that come here have some soft skills that they need to learn. There’s trauma involved in various situations, so we need to work with them and meet them where they are.”

KnoxWorx invests in people of all ages. One of their programs is focused on helping high-school dropouts obtain a GED, or high-school degree equivalent.

In Knox County, historically about 92 percent of students graduate high school each year. However, due to the ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number slid to about 89.9 percent last year, according to data provided by Knox County Schools.

“We’re focused on people in our community who are falling through the cracks in terms of employment,” said Mike Jacobs, the Senior Director of KnoxWorx.

The program also helps people who are leaving jail or prison as a reentry program which helps them develop skills and obtain employment.

Jacobs said each semester KnoxWorx has a cohort of about 25 people. It’s the perfect amount to keep the group small and tight knit.  The program runs twice a year, meaning they help about 50 people annually.

Before a person is enrolled in the official 6-month program, they go through a one-month trial period. Jacobs said this is to weed out people who aren’t committed to the process.

A good attitude is one of the most important skills to succeed in the program.

“Like anybody motivation comes and goes. Typically, we get a kind of honeymoon period at the beginning of the program. If they can make friends with one another, that’s when the accountability portion comes in,” Jacobs said.

Unlike other career-development programs, Knoxworx invests in personal success too.

Jacobs shared that KnoxWorx has case managers, career coaches, and therapists available to the participants for any additional support they may need.

Participants who have gone through the program have gotten jobs in construction, carpentry, electrical work, roofing, culinary, and manufacturing.

“We are filling those workforce gaps with people who want and need that employment,” Consoli said.

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