Rutherford County Preps Students For High-Tech Careers
Learn how Rutherford County's economic development, industry and education leaders are teaming up to build a technically trained workforce for emerging industries in the area.
Thanks to the presence of a growing roster of top companies, including Amazon Fulfillment, Schwan Cosmetics and National Healthcare Corporation, Rutherford County’s job market is on track for unprecedented growth over the next decade. With new opportunities in health-care, manufacturing and IT industries, the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce has partnered with business and education leaders to ensure the pipeline of qualified and technically skilled talent continues to flow unabated into the local labor market.
“Our strategic plan for the last few years has focused significantly on career exploration, mainly using the Career and Technical Education Pathways,” says Beth Duffield, vice president of workforce development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “There are 16 approved pathways or career clusters identified by the state. Rutherford County has schools with 14 of those pathways represented. Those pathways, which include auto mechanics, logistics, manufacturing, health science, IT and business, all tie directly to jobs in our community.”
Working in partnership with the CTE program, the Chamber pairs students at the high school and college level with industry leaders willing to give them hands-on, real-world experience to supplement classroom curriculum. Business leaders sponsor field trips, give lectures and seminars, and even offer students paid internships.
Tyra Pilgrim, career and technical education coordinator for Rutherford County Schools, says the needs of the business community play a major role in shaping each career pathway’s curriculum, and schools work to ensure that students are prepared to pursue those high-demand careers in college or right out of high school.
“For our mechatronics pathway at Oakland High School, for example, students have the option for dual enrollment, which means they are taking college-level courses while in high school, and they can actually graduate with a Siemens Level I certification,” Pilgrim says. “They could go straight into the industry making between $30,000 and $35,000 a year, which, for an 18-year-old, is a big deal.”
Growing Smarter Every Day
The collaboration with the business community continues at Rutherford County’s community colleges. The Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro campus consults industry advisory boards for recommendations on how the college needs to adjust its curriculum to meet their needs.
“Not only do all of our students get hands-on experience in our labs and through our lectures in the classroom, but they also have the opportunity to either intern, co-op or work in a clinical program,” says Lynn Kreider, director of TCAT-Murfreesboro.
Thanks in part to growth within the manufacturing, distribution, IT and health-care industries, as well as the establishment of Governor Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs – which provide free tuition to eligible high school graduates and adult students – the college’s enrollment has risen significantly, Kreider says.
“Right now we probably have more opportunities to place our students than we can actually handle,” Kreider says. “We’ve increased the numbers, and we’ve become very creative with our space and with our equipment. This fall we added four additional night programs.”
TCAT-Murfreesboro is building a $35 million facility on Nissan’s Smyrna campus that will serve as both a satellite campus for students, as well as a training facility for Nissan employees and other training partners. Motlow State Community College’s Smyrna Campus has also experienced a recent growth spurt and is working to add a third building to the campus to house its nursing program. While the college ranks among the top community colleges for its mechatronics program, Motlow is working hard to keep pace with the workforce demands of the county’s booming health-care industry as well, says Motlow State Community College president Dr. Anthony Kinkel.
“We are very active in the Rutherford County health-care advisory council,” Dr. Kinkel says. “The Tennessee Department of Labor has produced a document called Hot Careers for 2022, and health-care professions top that list. There is a high need here for medical and clinical laboratory technicians, paramedic and emergency medical technicians, and highly skilled health-care professions like respiratory therapists and radiologic technicians, so we’re looking at adding or expanding those programs as well.”