Mayors, school district superintendents and community leaders gathered at East Hamilton Middle High School on Tuesday to formally announce a regional partnership focused on building workforce skills among public school students. The Pathways to Prosperity initiative will bring together education and business professionals throughout four counties to design academic career pathways focused on Information Technology (IT) and Advanced Manufacturing.
These new educational programs will be initially developed for Bradley, Hamilton, Marion, McMinn and Cleveland City school districts, with the goal of expanding throughout Southeast Tennessee in the future.
The Pathways programs will begin as early as elementary and middle school with career awareness resources helping both teachers and students learn more about growing labor markets in the region. As students transition into high school, they will have the opportunity to enroll in a series of courses focused on IT or Advanced Manufacturing. In these academic programs, students will take skills-
focused classes and participate in internship programs giving them firsthand experiences at local employers. Students enrolled in these programs will also obtain college course credits and work toward completion of industry certifications.
Dr. Danielle Mezera from the Tennessee Department of Education was present at Tuesday’s launch event to explain the importance of the Pathways career programs. She said, “Southeast Tennessee is in a great position to develop academic pathways showing students clear alignment between their education and their future jobs. Through Pathways, students build upon their academic and work experiences, allowing them to acquire the right certifications and degrees throughout their lives.”
Top leaders from municipal government, local employers, and area colleges have made the commitment to support Pathways. “My fellow mayors and other community leaders are getting involved in Pathways because we see the value it will bring to our students and the businesses that will one day employ them,” said Mayor Jim Coppinger of Hamilton County, who serves as the co-chair of the Southeast Tennessee Pathways Steering Committee.
McMinn County Mayor, John Gentry, noted the alignment to other initiatives in his community. “Pathways to Prosperity seems to integrate well into our county’s many initiatives focused on developing the skills of our local workforce,” Mr. Gentry said. “We are happy to participate in the effort and look forward to seeing the positive results Pathways produces.”
Workforce skills have become an important issue among regional leaders in recent years. Tim Spires, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association and the other co-chairman of the Pathways Steering Committee, works with employers throughout the region. “I hear from companies every day that their greatest concern is the availability of a qualified workforce,” he said.
This focused attention from business leaders is leading to action in the region’s communities. As noted by Ron Harr, CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, “Today when our members voice their concerns about workforce skills, I’m pleased we can point to a number of initiatives, such as Pathways, where the community is pulling together to address the gap.”
The Pathways to Prosperity work will launch IT and Advanced Manufacturing career programs in area schools at the start of the 2014-2015 school year. Over the next 11 months, project leaders and the Pathways Steering Committee will coordinate the efforts of partners from across the region as they design these programs and prepare for the 2014 launch. The scope of this regional project is the first of its kind in the area and will require strong collaboration among hundreds of stakeholders throughout the four participating counties. PEF serves as the community intermediary for the Pathways work and will support the orchestration of the large Pathways team.
“Our organization will be diligent in bringing all needed voices into this important conversation,” said Dr. Dan Challener, PEF President. “That is how we will make sure we develop programs that really work for our students.”
The Pathways effort draws on the region’s recent experiences in bringing business and education together to support student learning. The launch of the STEM school and regional STEM Innovation Hub in 2012 followed a similar approach among a diverse set of community partners. “We’re using the connections and collaborative knowledge developed in our STEM efforts to drive this Pathways work as well,” said Tracey Carisch, managing director of the STEM Innovation Hub, which has served as a major partner in the region’s Pathways efforts. “We see this development of IT and Advanced Manufacturing curricula as a strong continuation of our region’s focus on enhancing education in science, technology, engineering and math.”
This time next year, students throughout the region will have the opportunity to begin a career journey in the fast-growing IT and Advanced Manufacturing labor markets. School district leadership views the new Pathways programs as an opportunity to expand their partnerships with local industry and further prepare students for the job awaiting them. “By leveraging our strengths and resources across the region, we will create strong career-aligned programs that put our students on the path to success,” said Rick Smith, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.
Learn more about the Pathways to Prosperity initiative at www.setnpathways.org