Several Hamilton County high schools will pilot new advanced manufacturing and IT courses next school year as part of a regional effort to better prepare students for the workforce.
County and school leaders from Hamilton, Bradley, McMinn and Rhea counties gathered Tuesday to celebrate the Southeast Tennessee Pathways to Prosperity effort. Through the program, officials said, schools and businesses would work together to create a new series of courses for students headed into jobs or higher education in IT and advanced manufacturing. That should help schools better prepare students for work in the region, whether those students go on to earn college degrees or immediately find jobs after high school graduation.
"The goal is to provide kids with a lot more information on what the jobs actually are in the region," said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith.
Many schools already offer some career and technical education courses. But the new program will take students beyond just learning about a particular field. The idea is for students to spend time outside school, getting hands-on experience in the kinds of places they eventually may find employment. With new opportunities for internships and college credit, officials hope kids will leave high school with skills that lead directly to jobs that need filling.
"The focus on coming out with certifications or credits -- that's the difference with pathways," said Tyner Academy Principal Carol Goss. "They're working toward something."
A $223,000 state grant got the project off the ground, though any additional costs for materials or classes will have to be covered locally, said Danielle Mezera, assistant commissioner for career and technical education at the Tennessee Department of Education. The program calls on businesses and school systems to commit to putting their own "skin in the game" instead of relying on state grants.
"That's not the intention of Pathways," Mezera said. "If it's a priority for the region, they work together to find solutions."
Businesses already have shown an interest in getting involved with school systems. McMinn County Mayor John Gentry said his county's plant managers association got involved in a ready-to-work initiative after local leaders realized many skilled jobs were going unfilled, even in a time of high unemployment.
Because the area's future is tied to manufacturing, Gentry said, schools, government and businesses need to work together to ensure a qualified work force.
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