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Weekend edition January 12, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

‘Redefining workforce’ is the Urban League’s focus in 2024

The Knoxville Area Urban League will share its workforce initiatives during its Annual Membership Luncheon on February 7.

Dr. Charles Lomax just finished his first year as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Knoxville Area Urban League (KAUL) and going into year two he is ready to establish focus.

“It’s time for me to look where we are heading,” he said. “Both as a community and as an organization.”

KAUL has historically been known as an organization that advocates for urban education, housing, justice, and jobs. Lomax wants to heavily focus on the latter in 2024.

“The theme for this year is ‘redefining the workforce.’ This encapsulates our renewed focus on empowering the entrepreneurial spirit here in East Tennessee, particularly among disadvantaged business enterprises,” Lomax said.

Why now?

Knoxville is growing rapidly. There’s a large push to support founders, recruit start-ups, and retain the established companies we have. Lomax has studied the numbers, he sees employment gaps, and he knows the role KAUL can play in solving those shortfalls.

Charles F. Lomax, Jr.

“It’s about looking internally and looking at the way we as an organization are approaching the workforce issue,” Lomax said. “I want to make sure that we are teaching, promoting, and offering the proper skills for people to be successful in the East Tennessee job market.”

For example, Knoxville has technology workforce gaps. There are manufacturing and technology companies that were founded in East Tennessee and want to stay here but struggle to grow due to a small pool of employable people with experience in that sector.

Lomax shared that one of KAUL’s 2024 efforts will be to point people toward careers in technology and energy.

“We’re at this intersection of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), so we should be focusing on tech and energy jobs. It’s not something we typically have focused on in the past. But those companies are looking for a qualified workforce, and we are producing just that,” Lomax said.

In addition to their ‘redefining the workforce’ efforts, Lomax said KAUL is also going to heavily promote and market its two start-up-centric programs.

‘CO.STARTERS’ program

It is a 10-week program where people who have an idea for a company can learn the basics of what it’s like to own, run, and operate a business. The program teaches soft and hard skills, from networking to bookkeeping. Lomaz said two cohorts run each year, with about 10-20 founders enrolled. The next CO.STARTERS cohort kicks off on the first Saturday in March.

‘NextLevel’ Small Business Development Initiative

This seven-month program is available through KAUL’s partnership with TVA. It requires that the participant is operating a semi-established small business. To be accepted, the founder must have a two-year or older business with two or more full-time employees. The company must also bring in more than $150,000 annually. NextLevel is designed to help these start-ups gain momentum with a three-year strategic business plan. They connect with mentors, network, and get to have a second set of eyes on their growth strategy.

KAUL Annual Membership Luncheon

Lomax is excited about the programming and focus of 2024. He said KAUL will share its workforce initiatives during its Annual Membership Luncheon on February 7.

Lomax invited Presidents and Chief Executive Officers of other Urban Leagues across the Southeast, who will share their innovations, strategies, and successes in other parts of the Southeast when it comes to engaging in the workforce conversation.

Even though the workforce is the focus for 2024, Lomax assured that KAUL will continue its efforts in areas of education, housing, and justice.

“Workforce is just getting an additional spotlight,” he said.

For more information about the luncheon, click here.


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