Access to a deep pool of skilled workers is one of Rutherford County's key competitive advantages, leveraging the strength of its standout public school systems and coordinated workforce efforts among government, education, business and industry. Initiatives such as Pathways Rutherford show the power of partnership in creating workforce development success, linking career tracks to opportunity and promoting education-business alignment.
Through that effort, all Rutherford County high school students are enrolled in Career & Technical Education (CTE) classes along with their regular traditional courses. In their freshman year, all students in the county’s 10 high schools are required to choose a CTE elective from a list of 16 recognized career cluster options that the federal government has compiled.
“In Rutherford County, we hope students pursue educational opportunities in five high-demand, high-wage sectors where we will need future jobs filled – construction, health care, information technology, manufacturing and transportation/logistics,” says Beth Duffield, senior vice president for education and workforce development with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. “But we know that some students won’t be interested in any of those five choices, which is why their options include the 16 CTE career clusters.”
Duffield points out that as freshmen, students must choose one of the 16 career paths, but after their freshmen year, they can decide to pursue a different interest.
“There are also several sub-specialties to study within each cluster,” Duffield says. “For example, a student might be interested in health sciences but doesn’t want to become a nurse, so they can study fields such as radiology, medical transcription, pharmacology, physical therapy and so forth. We are simply helping to build the pipeline of talent for the future business community of Rutherford County.”
99 Percent Graduation Rate
Besides Rutherford County Schools, stakeholders in the initiative include more than 100 industry partners as well as Middle Tennessee State University, Motlow College, Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro and others.
“We have students taking field trips, job shadowing, applying for internships and listening to top professionals speak to their classes,” says Tyra Pilgrim, career and technical education coordinator with Rutherford County Schools. “Right now throughout all of Tennessee, employers can't find enough talented people ages 16-25 to fill jobs. That’s where Pathways Rutherford and CTE come in.”
One recent success story involves health care facility NHC Murfreesboro, which successfully put 57 high school students through training for certified nursing assistant certification. Those students can now work as CNAs while pursuing further nursing studies in college.
“An impressive statistic is that Rutherford County Schools has a 99 percent graduation rate for students in the CTE initiative,” Pilgrim says. “Our school system has welcomed recent education leaders from Hawaii, Utah and Ohio who wanted to see how we are getting such successful results from this program.”
8th Graders Involved, Too
More than 160 CTE high school teachers are at work in Rutherford County Schools, and 2,500 students are taking classes. Pilgrim adds that even 8th graders are being introduced to the CTE idea.
“High school teachers go to middle schools and explain each of the 16 career paths so that 8th graders can hear as much information as possible to help them make their CTE choice in their freshman year,” she says.
Pilgrim adds that the school system is also changing its concept of career and job fairs, where most students in the past would just visit company booths, get pieces of information, and basically enjoy the day off from school.
“In April 2017, we staged a Senior Job Fair at Blackman High School where all seniors from Blackman as well as Holloway High School dressed for success and had their resumes ready,” she says.
“We invited 50 different companies to attend, with companies only invited if they had jobs available. The companies interviewed students that day, and some students got hired for part-time jobs for the summer. Many will continue working as they enroll in college for the fall semester.”