Chattanooga State Community College has provided truck driver and diesel mechanic courses for decades, but as Chattanooga's growing "freight alley" boosts the labor demands for workers in the logistics industry, the college is preparing to shift into a higher gear in its training programs.
"We've seen the growth in transportation and logistics and we know with the supply chain challenges for workers in our community we needed to help address this need," Rebecca Ashford, president of Chattanooga State, said in a recent interview on the main campus.
As a transportation hub, seven out of the 11 Chattanooga-based businesses on Inc. magazine's list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America last year were in transportation and logistics. Chattanooga also is home to the nation's largest woman-owned third-party logistics company, Kenco Logistics, and two of the nation's biggest trucking carriers - U.S. Xpress and Covenant Logistics.
Last September, Tennessee Board of Regents member Weston Wamp helped organize a meeting among many of Chattanooga's biggest logistics and trucking company executives to identify ways the college could help meet the skill needs for one of the city's biggest industries.
"Gone are the days when we just laid out a programmatic prescription forward on our own," said Bo Drake, vice president of economic and workforce development at Chattanooga State. "We're trying to be responsive and we need that partnership with business and industry to make sure what we are teaching is relevant and in demand."
Aided by a $12.2 million grant from the state, Chattanooga State plans to relocate and double the capacity of its truck driving training offered through the Tennessee College of Applied Technology for commercial driver licenses (CDL) and develop another Future Ready Institute focused on logistics.
Dr. Jim Barrott, vice president for technology and director of the Tennessee Technology Center, said the college's truck driver program was training about 150 drivers a year through either its seven-week CDL-A certification to drive large, commercial semitractor-trailers or the more abbreviated CDL-B certification for smaller vehicles until the pandemic limited the number of students it could handle at one time.
"During COVID we had to reduce the number of students we could train, so we expect to have about 100 graduates this year," Barrott said in an interview at Chattanooga State. "But we anticipate ramping that back up this fall and we're planning over the next five years to double our capacity to about 300 drivers a year once we get our new facility."
The college is looking for a new and bigger site to replace the school's current truck driver and maintenance facility on Adams Road in Hixson.
Chattanooga State will host a community kickoff event for its freight brokerage, logistics and supply chain and transportation programs from 9-11:30 a.m. Friday, May 13, at the Center for Engineering, Technology, Arts and Sciences (CETAS) Building on the main Chattanooga State campus. The program will include an overview of what is offered at Chattanooga State followed by panel discussions to help educate prospective students of all ages, parents of middle and high schoolers, guidance counselors and the broader community about local opportunities available in the growing logistics sector. More information is available at chattanoogastate.edu/lft.
The moves come as the pandemic has made trucker shortages more severe as demand to move freight reaches historic highs. The American Trucking Associations, a large industry trade group, estimates that the nation is short about 80,000 drivers.
But college officials are trying to do much more than just put more people behind the wheel. An array of new training options for high school, college and adult learners is being added to help meet the diverse talent demands in supply chain management, shipping and other logistics needs.
"We are trying to be responsive to what we're hearing from business and industry and everything we are doing is in response to what we have heard from them about their talent needs," Chad Jaynes, interim dean of business at Chattanooga State, said at the campus. "We're building out a curriculum that meets their skill sets."
Starting this fall, the college is adding a two-year associate's degree of applied sciences and business management with a logistics concentration. For those wanting a more complete four-year degree program, Chattanooga State is working to make sure its new curriculum integrates with the Tennessee transfer pathway program to provide college-level credits from the Chattanooga State program for a bachelor's degree or more.
Additionally, the college is preparing a short-term, non-degree freight broker training class to help growing businesses like Steam Logistics and Trident Logistics. Starting June 1, the new two-week course will begin getting workers ready to hit the ground running when they go to work for one of the many freight brokers in Chattanooga.
"The beauty of this type of course is that in just a couple of weeks, many people might be able to go from a low-wage job and get started in an industry and position where they could do very well, even making a six-figure income over time," Ashford said. "Most people don't have two to four years to get all the training they need to advance their career. But these types of programs not only help the employers' needs on the supply chain side but also help many more people get connected to really good-paying jobs."
The college also is working with Hamilton County Schools to develop another Future Ready Institute to be housed at the U.S. Xpress Enterprises headquarters in space vacated by most of the company's headquarters employees shifting to remote, work-at-home jobs. The dual-enrollment program is expected to begin in the fall of 2023 and help to entice more high school students into careers in logistics.
"We have all of these companies around logistics, transportation and trucking here, but we don't really have a robust program to get people interested and into that sector as a potential career," said Eric Fuller, CEO of U.S. Xpress Enterprises.
Fuller said U.S. Xpress has agreed to open up some of its vacated headquarters staff to establish the Future Ready Institute focused on the logistics industry.