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PART 1: Two local educational institutions collaborating to address workforce needs

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series focused on how two separate Knoxville initiatives addressing workforce needs are also coming together. The second article posts on Monday in the weekday edition of teknovation.biz.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Whether you run an established company or a start-up, access to qualified, well-trained technical talent has always been a challenge. That reality has become even more pervasive in the past few months with “Help Wanted” signs dotting many roadsides and storefronts as technically intensive companies are desperate to fill positions to capitalize on new opportunities.

Today, the Business and Community Services division at Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) is using federal funding authorized by the “Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021” to offer a program that can help employers find some of those much-needed workers as well as those looking to prepare themselves for a better long-term future in manufacturing, information technology (IT), or customer service.

The title – “Reimagine Your Career” – says a great deal about the focus. It is targeted to individuals whose finances or employment outlook were negatively impacted by COVID-19. More important, there is no cost to the participants other than their time.

And, in one of those great examples of two of the region’s educational assets working together, the IT portion of the program is being supported by a complementary initiative launched at the University of Tennessee (UT) called the “Tennessee Digital Jobs Factory.”

In this first article, we will explore the PSCC plans with Teri Brahams (pictured right), the College’s Executive Director of Business and Community Services. The second article will focus on the UT-led initiative that involves several individuals with strong ties to the Haslam College of Business and its first-in-the nation Business Analytics and Statistics Program.

Brahams, who is well-known for years of working to connect businesses and the college, says, “It’s one way the College is able to give back to the community. It also responds to our employer partner needs for a trained workforce and help those looking for better jobs to get on the right path for a career that pays well.”

As described on this webpage, the “Reimagine Your Career” program offers individuals the opportunity to receive career-specific training, gain industry recognized credentials, and interview with local employers. Brahams says she already has a number of employers who have agreed to attend at least one session of the program, describe their company and its focus, and interview at least one course participant.

“We’re only asking them to guarantee an interview, not a job,” Brahams says of the industry participants. She hopes to secure about six for each of the three tracks. Those interested should contact her at tbrahams@pstcc.edu.

The two-track program starts with a six-week, 36-hour career foundations training component that was developed in partnership with local employers to cover the skills and habits that employers look for the most when interviewing and hiring new employees. The training will include discussion and hands-on activities to help participants develop an understanding of career options, work ethic, integrity, problem solving, communication and listening skills, workplace math essentials, data analysis and workplace computer skills.

After completing that component, participants will follow one of the three tracks – manufacturing, IT, or customer service – where the length of the instruction will vary depending on subject area. As its name implies, the customer service track is focused on careers such as Call Center Representatives, Service Dispatchers, Client Experience Associates, and Office Coordinators. It includes 36 hours of training with 20 percent conducted through learning modules and 80 percent through hands-on exercises with technology and scenarios most often encountered in the workplace. Upon completion of the training, participants will take a final exam to earn a certificate through PSCC and Telephone Doctor Inc.

The manufacturing component has two sub-tracks – Certified Production Technician and Certified Logistics Technician.

  • In the case of the former, the training is focused on jobs such as Line Technicians, Quality Inspectors, and Set-up Operators. The component includes 140 hours of training, 50 percent conducted through learning modules and the balance of the training involving hands-on exercises with equipment and scenarios most often encountered in the workplace. Upon completion of the training, participants will take the certification exam to earn an industry recognized certificate.
  • The Certified Logistics Technician involves 70 hours of training – 50 percent through learning modules and 50 percent involving hands-on exercises with equipment and scenarios most often encountered in the workplace. A portion of the training will also include basic forklift operation. Upon completion of the training, participants will take the certification exam to earn an industry recognized certificate. Likely jobs for those who successfully complete the training include Supply Technicians, Shipping Assistants, Logistics Specialists, and Materials Management Technicians.

The IT component, which the UT “Tennessee Digital Jobs Factory” will coordinate, is the longest at 150 hours of training. Like most of the others, one-half will be conducted through learning modules with the balance involving hands-on exercises with equipment and scenarios most often encountered in the workplace. Upon completion of the training, participants will earn the “Google IT Support Professional Certificate” and be qualified to sit for the “CompTIA A+ Certificate.” They would be qualified for jobs such as Database Administrators, Help Desk Technicians, Technical Support Specialists, and Systems Analysts.

Brahams hopes to serve about 100 individuals in PSCC’s service area of Blount and Knox Counties. A pilot class started right after Labor Day with what Brahams describes as “seven highly motivated individuals.”

PSCC is now accepting applications for classes that start in early November at three of its five locations – Magnolia Avenue in East Knoxville, Blount County, and the main campus in Hardin Valley in Knox County. A second cohort will start in January.

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