Workforce Partnerships Give Maury County Students Skills to Succeed

Maury County educators are working with industry leaders to train and develop a knowledgeable workforce.

Jason Zasky
On Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - 23:00
Columbia, TN

Maury County is committed to providing relocating and expanding companies with the best possible workforce. To prove it, educators are working hand in hand with industry leaders to address skill gaps before they arise and prepare future workers for high-in-demand jobs in the area's top industries.

One vital partner in this effort is the Workforce Development and Conference Center at Northfield, a nonprofit facility that helps advance business, economic and workforce development for southern middle Tennessee. Housing a 25,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing lab, one-third of the center is used for training, and the rest of the 300,000-square-foot space is available for lease to companies creating jobs. The facility allows education providers throughout the region to offer classes under one roof, some of which are even offered to duel-enrollment high school juniors and seniors.

"All classes are developed with the assistance of the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance to focus on the emerging job market and close skill gaps," says Tom Brewer, director of the Workforce Development and Conference Center at Northfield. 

Columbia State Community College offers several courses at Northfield, including EMS emergency medical training and paramedic training. The Tennessee Technology Center at Hohenwald provides training for automotive technology and industrial maintenance, along with a program for certification as a Licensed Practical Nurse. The Tennessee Technology Center at Pulaski also holds courses at Northfield in CNC computer numeric controlled machine technology, phlebotomy science, customer service/call center preparation and solar photovoltaic technology.

Workforce-Ready Curriculum

Along with its partnerships with regional colleges and tech centers, the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance provides numerous services to both employers and job seekers. Its 34-member workforce board, governed by business leaders across the region, meets regularly to discuss the needs of local employers and evaluate how the current workforce can meet those needs.

Jan McKeel, executive director of the SCTWA, says it can be as simple as asking, "How do you describe what you want in an employee?"

SCTWA then works with schools to find graduates who meet these needs or help the schools better understand which courses should be offered to address those gaps.

Under the umbrella of the SCTWA is the Tennessee Career Center, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Vocational Rehabilitation and Adult Education (Project Learn). All of these entities collaborate to help companies find their ideal employees, partly through aptitude tests that measure interests and skills in a particular area, including math and reading. National Career Readiness Certificates are then issued at a bronze, silver or gold level.

"Employers have also come to rely on this tool (NCRC) as an excellent screening device for finding qualified applicants," McKeel says.

Ahead of the Curve

Columbia State Community College also partners with Northfield for some of its training in the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and Advanced Integrated Industrial Technology (AiiT) programs. The goal is to provide hands-on experience in labs and through internships and practicums, whenever possible.

Columbia State's AiiT program launched in fall 2012, with 22 students at Northfield. 

"The emphasis for AiiT is to train graduates for the highly technical manufacturing jobs of today with skills in hydraulics, pneumatics, electricity and robotics," says Dearl Lampley, dean of Science, Technology and Mathematics at Columbia State. "All courses have critical-thinking and problem-solving skills embedded in the labs."

Columbia State Community College also offers the EYH (Expanding Your Horizons) and GRITS (Girls Raised in Tennessee Science) programs, both founded by Middle Tennessee State University professor Judith Iriarte-Gross.

"The primary mission of these organizations is to further enhance the opportunities and awareness of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) academic fields, primarily for young females," says Glenn Hudson, associate professor of math at Columbia State. "Although females represent about 50 percent of the population, they hold less than 25 percent of all the available STEM-type professions in the U.S."

Through high school and college programs and educational alliances, Maury County continues to elevate the skills of job seekers, an approach that benefits both local employers as well as current and future workers in the area.


Jason Zasky is a journalist, author and media entrepreneur with a background in print and online magazines.