Skilled workers key to decade's economy

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 1/12/20

Cities and counties that are committed to workforce training, as well as improving the quality of life of their residents, will outpace other communities as they become dominant in the race to …

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Skilled workers key to decade's economy

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Cities and counties that are committed to workforce training, as well as improving the quality of life of their residents, will outpace other communities as they become dominant in the race to attract and retain highly skilled workers over the next decade.

Doug Berry, vice president for economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said bigger skill sets will result in higher pay scales for local residents who are able to participate in what Berry terms as the “next advanced economy.”

“We want our citizens to have the best access to training and education that we can give,” he said.

For example, as auto manufacturers such as Volkswagen shift away from producing combustion engines, the workforce must be prepared to take advantage of high-tech jobs that may result as auto manufacturers, as well as their suppliers, adjust to new manufacturing processes.

As VW positions itself to manufacture the next generation of electric vehicles, there is a strong possibility its suppliers will locate in Cleveland.

“If we're looking at automotive projects 20 years out, we want to supply our thinking beyond the combustion engine and the things that we have to have with the changes happening in the automotive industry that will lead us to the next generation of vehicles, which is obviously moving forward toward electric-vehicle production," Berry said.

Berry said the community “must continue to try to capitalize on the synergies it has with its existing industry base to try to maximize their growth potential.”

“But we also want to dig in a little deeper with them and and start learning what we need to be doing to help complement their operations with their supply chains, and that's a never-ending task,” Berry said. “So, continuing a diversification of the economy  is key. During the next 10 years as business cycles come and go, we’ll refine our course and our path a little more.”

The key to a vibrant, healthy local economy is its educational system, which Berry said will provide a foundation for skilled workers.

The Career & Technical Education program at Cleveland High School, as well as Bradley County Schools’ future Partnerships in Education program, will help build that foundation with their emphasis on providing students with opportunities in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math.

In addition, the mechatronics program at Cleveland State Community College will also help provide highly skilled workers who will be in demand as the local manufacturing base increasingly relies on automated manufacturing processes.

As a result, future workers will need an academic background that includes knowledge of statistics, robotics, physics and technical calculations.

The importance of technical training was reinforced during a visit by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee when he visited Cleveland last week to tour Cleveland High School’s CTE training facilities, where students can earn dual credits in fields such as engineering and mechatronics, as well as health sciences.

The governor said such programs need to be duplicated across Tennessee.

"We need this to be happening all over the state,” Lee said. “So, seeing it, putting our eyes on it and understanding how it’s working, is part of what we want to see happen all across Tennessee.”

Lee said CTE programs are attractive to students.

“It makes kids want to be in school and want to learn,” he said. “It makes them enjoy their high school experience, makes them think about what they're going to do in their future."

Also important over the next 10 years is Cleveland's own facelift. Berry said the city's implementation of its downtown revitalization plan will entice and retain highly skilled workers who are attracted by amenities such as local restaurants, urban housing, music venues and green spaces.

“We will have more and more emphasis on the quality of life in our community,” he said. “We need to improve the diversity of housing stock and the cost of housing. We need to create destinations for a quality of life, whether it's an active downtown with restaurants and shopping and entertainment venues, and we need to improve our recreational facilities for our families.”

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