This story was updated at 5:05 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, with more information.
The trucking giant U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc. plans to convert some of its headquarters facility vacated by shifting more workers to remote jobs to a new Future Ready Institute to train more students in information technology and other job skills needed to serve the growing logistics industry in Chattanooga.
Eric Fuller, CEO of U.S Xpress, said Tuesday he hopes to launch the training program by this fall working with Chattanooga State Community College to train both high school students and adult learners in a host of skills needed in the trucking and freight shipment industry in Chattanooga.
"This is being designed to help support the entire logistics ecosystem in Chattanooga," Fuller said in a phone interview. "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."
Last year, seven out of the 11 Chattanooga-based Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies were in transportation and logistics. Tennessee Board of Regents member Weston Wamp, one of three Republican candidates running for Hamilton County mayor, said in Monday night's GOP mayoral debate he assembled CEOs of Chattanooga's major logistics companies to talk about their staffing needs.
Fuller stressed that "this is hardly a U.S. Xpress only initiative.
"Many companies in our community who focus on transportation and logistics have been involved from the beginning," Fuller said in a post on Linkedin. "Companies like Stem Logistics, Freightwaves, Dynamo Ventures, Kenco Group, Transco Logistics, Trident Transport, McKee Foods Corp., Reliance Partners, etc -- everyone was brought together initially with the leadership of Weston Wamp and Rebecca Ashford with Chattanooga State who brought the vision to the group."
Based upon the workforce needs calculated at that time, the state has agreed to provide Chattanooga State what Wamp said should be an extra $12 million to build out the college's truck driver training program and to help launch the Future Ready Institute.
"Chattanooga State is committed to responding to business and industry needs for workforce development, and as such, we are expanding our transportation and logistics offerings to help better meet the growing demand for great paying careers within this important sector," Nancy Patterson, vice president of college advancement and public relations at Chattanooga State, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "In partnership with the Hamilton County Department of Education, we are developing educational and career pathways in logistics and supply chain through dual enrollment at Future Ready Institutes."
Patterson said the timeline for the new institute is still being developed. Chattanooga State is also working to double the capacity of its commercial truck driving program by 2025.
Hamilton County Commission chair Sabrena Smedley, another mayoral candidate, said during a candidates' debate Monday night that U.S. Xpress is preparing space to offer information technology training and other programs as part of the county's growing Future Ready Institutes.
"One thing that COVID-19 has taught U.S. Xpress is that things are going more automated and more workers can work from home," Smedley said. "They are repurposing one of their buildings and partnering with Chattanooga State to provide a Future Ready Institute, which will bring students from Tyner, East Hamilton and Ooltewah high schools for IT training. Let me tell you, we are missing the mark on IT training right now. We don't have enough students going into computer science, and we've actually lost a couple of businesses because of that."
Fuller said more jobs in the logistics industry are moving to more automated and digitized operations that involve IT and other technical skills.
About 5% of the headquarters staff at U.S. Xpress is now working in the office, Fuller said. While that share is projected to increase as the COVID-19 virus eases, Fuller said the company is looking to permanently shift to remote work more employees, and some of the headquarters space will be available for the Future Ready Institute.
Chattanooga State is working on the new programs with U.S. Xpress and other trucking company officials, including former Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson, who helped launch the Future Ready Institute program before leaving the school system last year to become chief of staff at U.S. Xpress. Future Ready Institutes are already offered in 13 zone high schools, providing students with small learning cohorts with career, theme-based teaching and learning beginning in ninth grade.
Organizers said some of the new curricula will be for degree programs and some for industry certifications or short-term job training opportunities.