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Photography by C.B. Schmelter / Patrick O'Hagan

Our current, low-unemployment climate has placed a renewed interest and focus on the development of our workforce. Considering both new and existing workers, employers are often left struggling to meet their skilled workforce needs and keep up with the pace of change.

In many ways, our region's businesses are booming. Week after week we read about Company A's announcement for a plant expansion project or Company B's call to hire X more employees by a certain time. But with that growth and opportunity comes an obstacle – where to find the qualified and skilled individuals to fill these critical roles.

Unfortunately, there's no magic pill that can alleviate this burden all at once. But there are multiple resources that can help your organization make substantial gains in this challenging world of workforce development.

As a community college employee and workforce development professional, I'd be remiss not to highlight the role my institution can play in this equation. When one thinks of community colleges, two-year associate degrees and university transfers usually come to mind. And while that alone plays an important role in developing the future workforce that industry needs, it's certainly not the full picture. Far from it.

In addition to the traditional college credit courses and degree pathways, Chattanooga State Community College offers a host of innovative and flexible training solutions that fall outside of this scope. For example, the development of registered apprenticeship programs (another work-and-learn opportunity) across our campus has been a tool to integrate traditional classroom learning and theory with the critical role of on-the-job learning.

We've been able to develop and embed this earn-while-you-learn framework across apprenticeships in both new and pre-existing college programs. And they are not limited to traditional blue-collar careers either. With over 1,000 apprentice occupations in the U.S. Department of Labor's database, pretty much any role you have can be retrofitted for this type of training program. The cost savings associated with apprenticeships' 90%-plus retention rates upon completion is enough to make any hiring manager excited.

Chattanooga State's technical division, Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Chattanooga (TCAT for short), provides formalized hands-on learning in intensive year-long programs focused on work-ready skills. These include clock-hour-based programs such as welding, industrial maintenance, practical nursing, commercial truck driving, etc. Again, with a 97% licensure pass rate across its programs, TCAT is yet another Chattanooga State workforce pipeline for industry.

And finally there's the college's Economic and Workforce Development department, where everything you thought you knew about community colleges is transformed. This specialized arm of the institution focuses solely on customized, non-credit training solutions for our industry partners.

Operating freely from the academic calendar and credit-bearing side of the house, this department is able to create innovative programs such as SkillUp, another earn-while-you-learn framework, focused on shorter term training programs aimed at upskilling entry-level candidates so that they are truly equipped to handle their first day on the job and beyond. These training programs can be tailor-made to fit the specific industry sector's requirements and even include necessary credentials.

In short, you have a friend in your local community college. As our mission states: "We are Chattanooga State, a dedicated team that delivers accessible, innovative learning opportunities that surpass expectations. Together, we enrich the lives of students and their families; develop a talented workforce; and partner with our community to lead boldly into the future."

If your organization is challenged with filling open positions, facing high turnover rates, or just in need of upskilling current employees, reach out to us. No matter what industry you're in, there's bound to be a workforce training solution for you within our campus community. There are multiple solutions, tools, and resources that can be deployed to help start addressing these needs immediately.

Patrick O'Hagan is Regional Impact Director at Chattanooga State Community College-Kimball.

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