Chattanooga State launches effort to increase apprenticeship programs

College attempting to meet area worker shortages

Staff file photo Ladair Tinker, second from right, readies to lead a group of Hamilton County Schools students on a tour of a Gestamp plant in Chattanooga in 2016. The automotive supplier offers an apprenticeship program to students.

Nine of 10 apprentices are employed after leaving apprenticeships.

Trying to fill worker shortages in the area, Chattanooga State is launching an effort to spur more apprenticeship programs and unveiled one on Friday in industrial maintenance mechatronics.

Community college officials said they're also looking at apprenticeship initiatives in such non-industrial fields as trucking and logistics and health care.

"Nine of 10 apprentices are employed after leaving apprenticeships," said Dr. Rebecca Ashford, the community college's president, in revealing the new effort. "We're excited to partner with business and industry to grow such programs."

Industrial maintenance mechatronics graduates are highly sought by companies which use automation, said Dr. Jim Barrott, executive vice president of Chattanooga State's technical division. Students learn to maintain and fix mechanical and electronic equipment.

Barrott said graduates can expect to earn $18 to $25 per hour.

"We're looking forward to great successes in this program," he said about the initiative that's one of the first at a community college statewide.

In such apprenticeship programs, students perform classwork but also spend time on the job and receive payment for their work.

Bo Drake, the college's vice president for economic and workforce development, said discussions are underway with two or three companies, which would pay for students to go through the apprenticeship program.

"Earning while you learn programs like these are designed to unlock potential throughout our community," he said.

For example, automotive parts supplier Gestamp has an apprenticeship effort with Hamilton County Schools.

Heidi King, the school system's work-based learning coordinator at Gestamp, said students work part-time shifts at the manufacturer and earn $9 per hour while on the job. Other time during the school day is spent in classroom learning, she said.

"We've seen students who typically go into fast food or retail, they're coming into our program and now have a successful pathway to their future," King said.

Chattanooga State officials said they'll target adults who may be employed at one or two lower-paying jobs to enter the new apprenticeship programs.

Christy Gillenwater, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's president and chief executive officer, said survey responses to its Velocity 2040 visioning process showed that good schools and jobs are "the No. 1 things we need to focus on ... ."

"It was a real call to action for us," she said, adding that the Chamber is collaborating with Chattanooga State in the apprenticeship effort.

Drake said while many workers are benefiting from the economy, some businesses are unable to find the skilled persons they need to fill job openings.

"The severity of the challenge is compounding," he said. "Historic times call for historic measures."

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.