Business and education partnerships drive workforce development efforts
From educational programs to partnerships between educational institutions and local industries, Rutherford County is prepping the workforce of tomorrow and supporting growing industries in the area that are in need of talent.
A number of organizations and initiatives leverage the strength of Rutherford County’s public school system and workforce development efforts are coordinated among government, education and industry. Initiatives such as the Career Pathways Partnership program show the power of partnership in creating workforce development success, linking career tracks to opportunity and promoting education-business alignment.
Careers, Pathways, Partnerships
Developed by the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce and Rutherford County schools, the the Rutherford Works Career Pathways Partnership program offers students the chance to explore careers and gain job skills through partnerships between local companies and local schools.
Beth Duffield, senior vice president of education and workforce development, says the program was developed after employers kept calling and asking how they could best conduct outreach efforts with local schools.
“Employers would call the guidance department or front office and a high school student would answer, and they could never get connected to the right person at the school,” she says. “Vice versa, I would have schools calling me asking for someone to speak to a class about a certain industry.”
For students, the program starts with an eighth grade career pathway event. In ninth grade, Rutherford County students must choose a Career & Technical Education (CTE) elective class from a list of 16 recognized career cluster options based on federal and state education standards, including Advanced Manufacturing, , Information Technology and Health Science and Supply Chain Management.
The career fair, Duffield says, is held with the intention of helping eighth grade students learn about the CTE programs they can study in their respective high schools that lead to careers in our community. “If you are in a CTE program of study for four years, you are going to most likely get industry certifications, and you could possibly get early college credit. You are going to know at the end of four years, yes, I want to do this or, some version of this or, ‘oh my goodness, this is not what I want to do,’” Duffield says. She believes career exploration in high school will prevent college-bound students from changing their majors multiple times, and help them complete their degrees on time.
Tyra Pilgrim, CTE coordinator for Rutherford County Schools, says the Career Pathways program is also having a profound effect on the way parents are viewing certain career options, particularly those in the skilled trades.
“It used to be that there was such a negative connotation with career-tech education, and now the parents are seeing how much money the kids can make,” Pilgrim says. “The kids can come out of high school with industry certification. And so that means kids can get a job where the employer will pay for a college education.” “Partnership is unbelievable,” she adds. “It gives our students options that they never had before.”
Rutherford County also has many other opportunities for ambitious middle and high school students. Coding and robotic summer camps facilitated by Rutherford Works are five-day programs that give students the tools to create software and develop digital infrastructures.
The annual Senior Hiring Event puts employers in front of 500+ graduating seniors actively pursuing part- or full-time jobs.
In addition, the Rutherford Works Summer Internship Program, which has garnered national attention, allows rising seniors the opportunity to work during the month of June in one of over 25 different companies or organizations in Rutherford County.
“We want students to have a chance to work in the field in which they plan to study, to make sure it really is what they want to pursue as a career,” says Duffield. “Surveys at the end of the month-long program typically show that 50% of the participants have decided they want to purse something other than what they did during their internship, and we think that’s great. It’s better to find out before entering college, than at the end of a four-year degree.”
In addition to building a robust career development infrastructure, Rutherford County is also home to a cutting-edge technology program. The mechatronics program at Middle Tennessee State University is exploding in popularity and already winning awards, despite being just two years old.
A combination of computer science, electronics and mechanical engineering, mechatronics is a very promising field. MTSU administrators say they expected about 50 majors to be enrolled by the fourth year of the program, but ended up having more than 200 by the third year. With local business partners like Murfreesboro Electric, the department currently boasts a 99 percent graduation rate.
Entrepreneurship in Rutherford County
Just down the road from the red-hot business ecosystem of Nashville, Rutherford County is a hub of business and entrepreneurship in its own right.
In addition to having a plethora of career development initiatives, Rutherford County also has numerous business development programs, including MTSU entrepreneurship program, a small business development center and business partnerships with the MTSU Jennings A. Jones School of Business. Businesses in Rutherford County also benefit from a low cost of doing business and the appeal of being in a state without an income tax.
These pro-business factors are clearly having an effect. In 2017, Rutherford County businesses added more than 1,500 jobs and attracted nearly $390 million in capital investments, according to the local Chamber of Commerce. The capital investments included seven businesses relocating to the county and 15 already-local businesses expanding their operations. Rutherford County expansions in 2017 included auto parts maker Valeo ($25 million), food service equipment producer Franke ($9.4 million) and Triton Construction ($1.4 million).
And the investments keep coming. Auto parts maker Topre America announced in late February that it would be expanding its operations in Smyrna, representing a capital investment of nearly $38 million and 50 new jobs.
“Between the talented workforce, geographic location and strong demand for our products, we’ve found an ideal spot in Rutherford County for our growing operation,” Brad Pepper, vice president for Topre America, said in a statement.
Rutherford County is also adept at launching new businesses, with many entrepreneur’s making use of MTSU’s small business development center. In 2017, the center helped businesses secure about $170 million in capital formation, which led to the creation of nearly 1,200 new jobs and the retention of nearly 940 jobs.
Clearly, the business ecosystem of Rutherford Country is on an upward trajectory and showing no signs of slowing down.