Big Orange Business: How the University of Tennessee System Supports Business Statewide
The University of Tennessee System touches business in every part of the state
A cornerstone of Tennessee’s economic success is the state’s ability to deliver a bevy of skilled workers that meet the needs of current and relocating employers.
With a presence in all 95 of the state’s counties, the University of Tennessee System plays a major role in both the state’s workforce and economic development efforts. The UT System enrolls nearly 50,000 undergraduate students and graduates more than 11,000 students each year. Many of these graduates join the workforce or start businesses, making a difference in their individual communities and the state.
The system gives the state a major research asset. In fiscal 2017, the UT System had a record $481 million in research and sponsored program expenditures.
“Our educational environment encourages creative ways of thinking, which leads to research discoveries and innovation as we take on problems facing our local communities or the world,” says Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations for the University of Tennessee System. “This attracts students from across all 50 states and from throughout the world. Many remain after they graduate. They are ready to work for the businesses of today and the future.”
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In addition to its flagship campus in Knoxville and campuses in Chattanooga and Martin, the UT System also includes the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, the Space Institute at Tullahoma and the statewide Institute of Agriculture and Institute for Public Service (IPS), which provide research, training and support to help businesses grow and thrive.
Through its six agencies, the IPS provides training to local and state government employees as well as law enforcement across the state.
An IPS agency, the County Technical Assistance Service, recently completed the County Officials Orientation Program in which 1,000 newly elected or appointed county officials, including mayors, clerks and highway officials gathered in Murfreesboro to learn how to best run their county government offices.
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The Center for Industrial Services provides technical support and training to manufacturing companies across the state. The agency, with 60 employees, includes specialists in particular industries to help companies address and solve problems, including workforce development.
“Our role is to work with companies to help them develop a workplace that will attract talent, develop talent and keep people over a period of time so they can be competitive on a global scale,” says Paul H. Jennings, executive director of the Center for Industrial Services. “That’s the real challenge, I think. We want to help companies think strategically about workforce development and look at it really as an investment that they need to make.”
The center has nine solution consultants across the state as well as subject matter experts based across the state who are in continual contact with manufacturers to understand their needs.
“There are conversations going on every day between our folks in the field and companies,” Jennings says.
One company that has greatly benefited from the support of the Center for Industrial Services is Colonial Diversified Polymer Products, an automotive parts supplier in Dyersburg. The small company has been a fixture in rural West Tennessee since 1946, but as the area’s demographics have changed, so has the company’s workforce needs.
“Like a lot of small, rural companies, we’ve had a generational workforce,” says LaDon Byers, company president. “Until recently, people would start their career in one place and stay at that same place throughout their career. But that trend has shifted dramatically and now instead of having people start with the company, learn from the ground up and advance through the company, we see more people, particularly younger people, come in, stay for a little while and then take their skills somewhere else. We’ve lost that generational knowledge.”
Byers says the Center for Industrial Services helped the company harvest that institutional knowledge and develop a training program that can quickly get new hires up and running.
“What we do is more than just turning a machine on and off,” Byers says. “What [UT-CIS] has done is helped us create a learning environment that trains our employees in such a way that they will stay here.”