Preparing Americans for High Skill, High Wage, and High Demand Occupations

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Carol Puryear

The Tennessee Technology Centers are “Champions of Change” for education.  Providing technical education in most states is done through the community colleges.  However, in Tennessee, the functions are split between community colleges and technology centers.  The 27 Tennessee Technology Centers offer specialized one to two year certifications in high skills, high wage, and high demand occupations.  Tennessee’s separate system has been highlighted as one of the most successful educational models in the nation.

Our model prepares Tennesseans for a variety of jobs and enables our students to enter the workplace with prepared skills that employers need.  The approach is unique and the results are outstanding with statewide completion rates at 70% and above and placement rates at 80% and above.  The Centers have maintained these high rates for years and exceed those of similar institutions.

The model includes four main areas:

Program Structure: Students enroll in programs with designated subjects, costs, and graduation expectations.  The majority of our students attend 30 hours per week year round with periodic breaks.  Academic and technical skills are woven together for an integral approach.  Aside from academic and technical skills, students are graded on worker characteristics such as attendance, teamwork, communication, etc.

Competency Based Instruction: The programs blend academic theory and applied skills around industry competencies leading to industry certifications.  Students learn at their own pace within structured interactions with qualified faculty members.

Integrated Remedial Work: All students attend “Technology Foundations” during their first term.  Currently, the TTCs use KeyTrain/Work Keys, a computer based curricula.  All students participate to learn and relearn basic math and reading skills specific to their program of study.

Students Services: All faculty, staff and administration take an active role in working with students to provide a “student centered approach” to ensure completion.  The entire staff works with the students from program inquiries, admissions, orientation, financial aid, and counseling, to graduation.  This approach is vital to our high success rates.

As I noted at the Champions of Change roundtable at the White House, partnerships are critical to our success.  The Tennessee Technology Centers work with business and industries to secure needed skills and incorporate these skills into our programs as well as hosting special training classes targeted at the needs of our state industries.  The industry partnerships expand to serving on our advisory board, hosting co-ops, sharing resources, and hiring our graduates.  Partnerships statewide include Volkswagen, Hemlock, Bridgestone, General Mills, Corp of Engineers, and many more, in addition to our Workforce Investment Board.

But, the most important partnership with which we work, which was mentioned by all of the roundtable participants, is the partnership with our students, to provide them with an education and the possibilities of changing their lives forever.

Dr. Carol Puryear is Director of the Tennessee Technology Center, Murfreesboro.

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