Where Are the Workers? State, Local Leaders Provide Update in Memphis

Date: October 15, 2018


Panelists (from left) Roland Rayner, Lyle Ailshie and Anita Brackin encouraged an audience of NFIB members in West Tennessee to contact them with questions, opportunities and challenges their organizations can work to address.

Three top workforce development leaders in Tennessee addressed an engaged group of NFIB activists in Memphis on Tuesday, Oct. 9, on a hot topic – locating qualified workers. According to NFIB’s most recent Small Business Economic Trends report, 61 percent of owners reported hiring or trying to hire, with 87 percent of those reporting few or no qualified workers, while 38 percent of owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period.

At the meeting, Dr. Lyle Alshie, deputy commissioner in the Tennessee Department of Education, Roland Rayner, president of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Memphis, and Anita Brackin, vice president of workforce and economic development with Southwest Tennessee Community College, highlighted progress and challenges in preparing more Tennesseans for workforce readiness.

Rayner said recent innovations, like dual enrollment programs with area high schools and efforts to increase capacity by offering evening programs, are helping. He said TCAT-Memphis is having successes with specific industry training, such as recently graduating 600 people, including 123 licensed aviation mechanics, 60 nurses, 25 truck drivers, and 20 diesel technicians. Responding to NFIB members who said many applicants lack necessary soft skills, Rayner said one-third of training used to be focused on developing soft skills, and proficiencies related to soft skills remain a requirement to graduate.

“A lot of our students don’t finish because they need a job now,” said Rayner, noting another challenge, along with lack of transportation to school.

Brackin said her college develops “skills needed,” based on what employers are seeking. Having served recently in a similar role at the Greater Memphis Chamber, Brackin said customer service and computer skills are basic building blocks, along with customized programs for companies large and small in IT, finance, manufacturing, and insurance. She said sometimes when a smaller company contacts the college, they can develop a plan within a day or two; other times, they will reach out to similar small employers to form a cooperative for industry-specific training.

Ailshie, who heads up the Divisions of Teachers & Leaders and College, Career & Technical Education, said last year Tennessee added 21 new individual credentials for a total of 80. He said more need to be added as Tennessee attracts new industries and more employers. He agreed with Rayner and Brackin that all students “need to have more work-based learning experiences,” internships and apprenticeships, which will be an emphasis at the state in the years ahead.

Workforce Development Contacts

Dr. Lyle Ailshie: TN Dept. of Education

Roland Rayner: TCAT-Memphis

Anita Brackin:  Southwest TN Community College

Related Content: Small Business News | Labor | Tennessee

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