Chattanooga is Ready to be Put to Work

Partnerships deliver a skilled, diverse workforce in Greater Chattanooga.

By
Kim Madlom
On Sunday, October 18, 2020 - 10:09
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Across Greater Chattanooga, partnerships between academic institutions, government and business have sparked a number of forward-thinking initiatives that are building a skilled and diverse workforce.

One such initiative is Southeast Tennessee Works (SETWorks), an innovative work-based learning program in which Chattanooga State Community College (CSCC) partners with some of the region’s top manufacturers to train students for jobs.

The program is divided into two six-week segments – the first six weeks spent in classroom training on the campus of CSCC, followed by an additional six weeks of on-the-job training with a partner employer.

SETWorks allows business and industry to tap an available labor pool to meet workforce needs, while also creating access to training and employment opportunities for students, says Bo Drake, CSCC’s vice president of economic and workforce development. Students get the education and training to become the skilled workforce manufacturers and industries need.

“SETWorks benefits our region in the best of ways,” Drake says.

Upon successful completion of the 12-week program, individuals have the opportunity for full-time employment with the employers. Partner employers in the region include Chattanooga Bakery, Gold Bond, Hamilton Plastics, M&M Industries, Southern Champion Tray and Gestamp.

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Chattanooga State Community College

Apprenticeship Opportunities

Gestamp, a Spanish company that manufactures metal automotive components, has also created its own apprenticeship program, the first in Tennessee to earn U.S. Department of Labor’s registered apprenticeship designation. Gestamp’s advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program allows high school students to get a full-day, work-based learning experience while also completing their education.

Students take online academic classes in a computer lab at Gestamp and also gain work experience in the plant during the school day.

Students in the region can take advantage of other apprenticeship opportunities, such as the partnership between Valmont Industries, Marion County Public Schools and CSCC. In 2019, Gov. Bill Lee helped kick off the program in which eight seniors were hired by Valmont Industries to participate in work-based learning.

Dalyn Graham, a student at Marion County High School with an interest in welding, participated in the program and says it was an opportunity to get experience and knowledge while still in high school.

“Being one of the very few girls that weld doesn’t make me feel out of place, it just shows me I can do what these men are doing, and I like that,” she says.

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Misty Watson / Dalton State College

Promoting Diversity

Dalton State College is making history in Georgia with its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution, awarded to institutions with at least 25% of full-time equivalent undergraduate students who are Latino. The designation opens up federal funding opportunities for lab equipment, building renovations, staff training, research, extra counselors, more tutors and an endowment fund.

Many of the Latino students are the first in their families to attend college, and Dalton State is creating opportunities for those students to be successful.

The City of Chattanooga, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and Urban League of Greater Chattanooga partnered to create The Styles L. Hutchins Fellowship, an effort to recruit and retain young African American talent and build a strong and diverse workforce.

The fellowship is named for Hutchins, the first African American admitted to the Georgia Bar. After he relocated to Chattanooga, he was an educator, attorney, politician, entrepreneur and minister.

The Chattanooga Chamber is also actively working toward increasing diversity in the workforce through programs such as Women’s Mentors On Call, which connects successful women in business with female entrepreneurs and students. That program is being rebranded to serve other groups, including veterans. Creating a diverse marketplace is a Chattanooga Chamber initiative that provides targeted support to help grow and more deeply involve minority-owned enterprises.

Two other programs in the region are helping some people gain skills for better jobs and personal growth. The University of Tennessee- Chattanooga’s Mosaic program supports the needs of degree-seeking students with autism spectrum disorders, while the BlueCross Project SEARCH program gives high-functioning young adults with intellectual or learning disabilities the opportunity to develop skills to seek competitive employment.

“Project SEARCH offers young people with intellectual and developmental differences an opportunity to learn relevant job skills after completing their high school education,” says Gary Steele, vice president of human resources for Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “It’s a life-changing program because it enables these students to gain valuable work experience and go on to find meaningful employment in their community.”

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Robert Briggs Photography

High Marks

Workforce training opportunities in southeast Tennessee are getting a boost from construction of the $17.75 million McMinn Higher Education Center in Athens, TN. The two-story, 51,150-square-foot building is across from a DENSO manufacturing plant, where 1,000 workers make components for the auto industry. The McMinn Center features classrooms, laboratories and vocational labs for training in fields as diverse as construction technology, HVAC, advanced manufacturing, computers, EMS training, nursing and agriculture. Among the teaching partners that will occupy space at the center are Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Athens, Cleveland State Community College Athens and the McMinn County UT Extension Institute of Agriculture.

If you'd like to learn more about the greater Chattanooga area, check out the latest edition of Chattanooga Region Economic Development.