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Business and Education Leaders Team Up to Build a Stronger Workforce in Rutherford County, TN

Rutherford County’s business community and education institutions are forming powerful partnerships.

By Teree Caruthers on June 21, 2022

Rutherford Works Girls Summer STEM and Code Camp
Rutherford Works

A number of partnerships have formed between the region’s education institutions and business community to prepare today’s students for the workforce and ensure tomorrow’s talent pool is stocked with skilled individuals.

A Smart Start

Career readiness begins as early as elementary school, thanks to programs like Rutherford Works, a division of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. Rutherford Works partners with local school systems, government agencies and employers to create opportunities for students to learn about careers, plan for their future, and access tools and resources to help plan and even pay for workforce training. For example, the organization hosts Career Pathway Fairs for eighth graders to not only introduce them to local, in-demand jobs, but also show them educational paths toward their career goals.

“Students select four career and technical education pathways to explore based on their YouScience interest and aptitude assessment results. YouScience takes their skills and interests and pairs them with careers,” says Essence Brisco, Rutherford Works marketing director. “Then they look at which CTE (career and technical education) classes could prepare them for those careers and then select those for the eighth grade Career Pathway Fair.”

Brisco says, during the fair, students learn about career pathways as well as the CTE courses that can help them prepare for those opportunities from high school teachers, industry professionals and even students enrolled in those courses.

“This helps students narrow down their class and career choices and has increased the signup for CTE classes in Rutherford County Schools,” she says. “By introducing students to the career concepts starting in elementary school through programs like If I had a Hammer or The Amazing Shake and continuing through middle school with the teacher externship program and eighth grade Pathway Fair and finishing in high school with programs such as the Work Ethic Distinction, we try to reach students at every phase of their educational journey with opportunities to explore and experience the available industries and jobs locally.”

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iStock/Nordroden

Brewing Good Business

Relationships have also formed between area businesses and Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). For example, the university’s fermentation science degree program — the first of its kind in Tennessee — was launched in part to support the needs of one specific business run by MTSU alumnus Mark Jones.

“The program was getting started at the same time I was in the planning stages of opening a brewery. We were planning to put it in Williamson County, but then I called some of our old professors, and they talked me into building the brewery in Murfreesboro because of the fermentation program,” says Jones, an agriculture business graduate and owner of Hop Springs Beer Park, an 82-acre facility, which also serves as MTSU’s fermentation and sensory labs.

Jones, who hired the program’s first graduate, says degree programs like fermentation science are vital to the county’s workforce because graduates are highly skilled and ready to work.

“Just like the concrete (industry management degree) program at MTSU, the aerospace and robotics programs, students in the fermentation program are ready to be put to work the day they graduate,” he says. “These guys are ready to go to work on some sophisticated equipment, day one. Being on the program advisory board, I was able to help outline — with the help of numerous other people — what these students needed in terms of the right curriculum. That’s what MTSU is so good about doing is working with the people who are doing the hiring to make sure the curriculum is set up to make the degree as advantageous as possible.”

“Students in the fermentation program are ready to be put to work the day they graduate.”

Mark Jones, Hop Springs Beer Park

A Workforce Supply Chain

Career introduction and training for local jobs continues aft er high school at Motlow State Community College, MTSU and Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT). Motlow State in Smyrna, for example, off ers an associate of applied science degree in business with a supply chain management concentration. Students learn the skills needed to take on high-demand supply chain and logistics careers.

“Students learn the skills that are used in supply chain management on a daily basis, including procurement, production planning, and logistics/transportation,” says Tracey Lee, Motlow State Community College business and technology curriculum chair. “Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, our students learn the importance of close coordination and collaboration across the supply chain. They learn how supply chain management relates to other functions inside and across organizations.”

Lee says what sets the program — and all the college’s programs — apart are the close ties instructors have to local industries.

“Our lead instructor has had over three decades of experience in supply chain management both at functional and executive levels,” Lee says. “The goal is to meet industry leaders so that Motlow can understand how to best serve industry needs. Faculty play a key role because most of the faculty are from various industries who develop the curriculum.”

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