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Memphis Schools and Industry Work to Keep Talent Flowing to In-Demand Jobs

Novel programs leverage the region's quality of life to draw millennials

By Teree Caruthers on August 15, 2018

Memphis, TN
Memphis / Courtesy of University of Memphis/Trey Clark

The ability to attract new, young talent gives Greater Memphis a decided advantage. In fact, a 2017 study by the Urban Land Institute ranked Memphis No. 4 among U.S. cities where millennials are moving.

But the region’s calling card is a steady stream of local workers ready to fill in-demand jobs.

“In order for Greater Memphis to thrive, we have to have a strong base of companies, and those companies will only come here and stay here if they can attract quality talent to perform in various divisions,†says Ernest Strickland, senior vice president of workforce development for the Greater Memphis Chamber.

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One way the region’s business community maintains that stream is by investing in students at a young age. The chamber, for example, works with Shelby County schools to introduce students to a variety of regional career pathways and help schools align their curriculum with the skills that businesses require.

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“We work to accomplish a number of things starting with career exploration,†Strickland says. “Often times, young people don’t know that there are high-paying, quality jobs right here in Memphis so we have to do a better job of allowing them to explore what those career opportunities are.”


Another of the region’s advantages for building a strong workforce is a network of higher education institutions, including the largest community college in Tennessee, vocational and technical training facilities and nationally ranked public and private school systems.

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In addition, the state’s commitment to ensure that 55 percent of state residents have a college degree or credential by 2025 benefits employers in the region and opens new avenues for working adults through programs such as Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Pathways. Tennessee Pathways, the newest initiative under the Drive to 55 program, emphasizes a seamless vertical alignment between K-12, postsecondary programs and career opportunities.

“The governor put together a strong infrastructure and laid the ground for the workforce to thrive in Tennessee. We’re working with the state to implement Pathways Tennessee programs here in Memphis, which will help us get people in the classes to get the training that will allow them to be not only employed but successfully employed,†Strickland says.

A Natural Attraction

The region’s highly desirable quality of life, cultural and recreational amenities and affordability are helping to draw millennial talent. The region has developed unique programs that help attract young talent, such as Music Export Memphis. The initiative capitalizes on the region’s thriving music scene to help boost the economy and draw new residents.

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“Our mission is to create opportunities for Memphis musicians to showcase outside the city, driving talent attraction and tourism and providing platforms for our artists to grow their fan bases and enhance their careers,†says Elizabeth Cawein, founder of Music Export Memphis. “There are plenty of reasons to choose to move to a particular city, but we know that culture plays an important role – when we show off our culture, we show off the best of our city, and that’s exactly what Music Export Memphis does.”

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Cawein says music as a quality-of-life feature not only helps lure skilled talent to the area but also provides a boost to the economy.

“A thriving music scene is an economy in and of itself. It’s bringing dollars out of wallets every night and putting them into the local economy. And that’s just the live music element,†Cawein says. “Musicians living in a city put their own earnings back into making records, which means spending money at recording studios and with engineers or producers. It often means hiring local artists to design album covers and using local companies to press T-shirts or vinyl. And of course, music brings in millions of dollars in tourism impact every single year.”

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