As UT Center for Industrial Services Solutions Consultant Bill Hicks travels the 16-counties of his East Tennessee region, he constantly hears from businesses and industries about the struggle to find good employees.
“With record low unemployment and a strong economy, many companies I visit would like to grow but are constrained by the available workforce,” Hicks said. “As I leave these meetings I continually found myself thinking ‘What is a good employee?’ and ‘How can we make good employees?’”
This led Hicks to think back to a tour he was given by his friend and colleague Chris Edmonds of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) Morristown campus.
“What I saw there was a great bunch of students learning practical, hands-on skills from amazing instructors with years of experience in their respective fields,” Hicks said. “These students really seemed to be well on their way to being those ‘good employees’ that I know my companies are looking for.” Hicks and Edmonds discussed what CIS might be able to do help these students be more attractive in the marketplace. However, without funding, any ideas they had were not possible.
Hicks discussed the ideas with CIS Economic Development Program Manager Beth Phillips, who mentioned a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The grant was to be used to develop, attract and retain the talented and skilled workforce that manufacturers need to compete in the region’s fast-growing automotive sector.
“Strategically partnering with the TCATs to build a globally competitive workforce and workplace was a perfect way to leverage our collective resources,” Phillips said.
With the funding, CIS produced the foundations of manufacturing curriculum. This curriculum was based on the needs CIS continually heard from its industry partners and is made up of five courses: lean manufacturing overview, essential skills of communicating, quality in the workplace and ISO 9001, critical thinking and problem solving and OSHA 10-hour general industry.
Throughout the spring and summer of this year, CIS instructors completed 152 hours of instruction for these students at the main campus in Morristown and at the satellite centers in Surgoinsville and Greeneville.
“They are getting the technical skills through TCAT and the relevant practical skills through the CIS instruction,” Hicks said. “It’s been a beneficial partnership for all involved.”