Working with industry and education leaders, Rutherford County is making career and technical education the focus of its workforce development efforts.
With lucrative high-tech jobs growing in Middle Tennessee, industry and education leaders in Rutherford County are working to ensure that local students are developing the skills to take advantage of these opportunities. Area schools are implementing programs designed to expose high school and college students to careers in health care, information technology, logistics and manufacturing – all major employment sectors in the region.
“Career exploration is an important component that is often overlooked,” says Beth Duffield, vice president of workforce development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “You can have a 35 on your ACT and go to Duke University and still not know what you want to do and waste a lot of time and money. Our career and technical education (CTE) pathways give students a foundation and a basis for recognizing what they don’t want to do and what they are really passionate about.”
IT, Health Science and Mechatronics Programs
One of the longest-running CTE programs in Rutherford County is Frank Cathey’s IT Academy at La Vergne High School.
“I recognized that there were a lot of jobs in the field, and I wanted to give students the opportunity to get those kinds of jobs,” says Cathey, explaining his rationale for starting the program in 2002.
Over the years, hundreds of Cathey’s students have earned industry certifications and gone on to work for companies like Dell and Quanta Computer.
“The kids see that other students have gotten certified, and it motivates them and makes them realize they can do it as well,” says Cathey, who stays in touch with former students who work at local IT firms to ensure he is teaching the skills employers demand from their hires.
Other unique CTE programs in the county include a dental science education program – the first of its kind in the state – at Stewarts Creek High School that exposes students to clinical procedures and a dual enrollment program that allows Oakland High School students to take mechatronics courses through Motlow College and earn a Level 1 mechatronics certificate even before graduating high school.
Pathways to Degrees
Students in Motlow’s mechatronics program can go on to transfer 64 credits toward a bachelor of science degree in engineering at MTSU and a Level 3 certification in mechatronics. At the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro, students can choose from an array of technical education courses, including a new distance education program in drafting and CAD technology that offers hands-on experience in computer-aided design.
Programs like these dovetail perfectly with Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55, which aims to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by 2025. Currently, 36 percent of Rutherford County residents 25 or older possess an associate degree or greater, but that percentage is expected to rise significantly in the next few years, thanks to the Tennessee Promise scholarship program, which will provide eligible students with two years of tuition-free education at any Tennessee community college or technical school.
Local Industry Initiatives
Local businesses are also doing their part to provide students with the tools to train for top jobs in the region. MAHLE Filter Systems, for example, recently donated used equipment to the technical education programs at Oakland and Siegel High Schools to support their mechatronics programs.
Major manufacturers like Nissan North America and Bridgestone Americas offer tours of their facilities to high school engineering and industrial maintenance students. Similar field trips are available to local middle school students through the ACE (After-school Career Exploration) program launched by the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
Rutherford County’s Business Education Partnership (BEP) Foundation also offers programs for educators and counselors, including Adopt-a-School partnerships that link individual schools with business partners who provide volunteers, money, supplies and involvement in school activities. BEP also coordinates student-oriented programs like Job Shadow Day and the annual Youth Leadership Rutherford, a selective personal development, civic education and community engagement initiative for high school juniors and seniors.
Selling Students on Their Future
Ultimately, the goal of these programs is to help students expand their horizons and recognize that hard work and dedication can open up a world of possibilities.
“The biggest thing I am trying to do is to sell students on their own future – that’s what all CTE programs do,” says Cathey, noting that these programs can mean the difference between a student thriving academically and dropping out of school.
“The graduation rate for CTE is 96-98 percent,” he says. “It’s rare that we have a student drop out. CTE gives students a reason to be here.”
Learn more about Rutherford County’s schools and programs.