Those labels are given to apprentices, who appear to be taken seriously right now by the state of Tennessee.
The states of Alabama and South Carolina have established apprenticeship programs.
“We don’t have a state (of Tennessee) strategy,” said Ann Thompson, workforce development director at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD).
As a result, ECD has been conducting a statewide “Apprenticeship Tour” to network with employers and educators and develop that strategy.
The tour made a stop last Tuesday at Northeast State’s Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) – ground zero for apprenticeship training in Kingsport.
“What occurs here in Northeast Tennessee is very unique … apprenticeship is not a dirty word to you,” Thompson told about 60 educators and employers at the RCAM. “This is a listening tour … this is not a time to talk about all the great things of this state.”
Thompson pointed out there were 5.8 million open positions in the nation as of last December with an overall 4.1 percent unemployment rate. Both Tennessee’s and Virginia’s unemployment rate is currently under 4 percent.
“There’s an issue here,” Thompson noted. “ … There are people not matched to the jobs we need, and we need to close that gap together … it’s no secret that Eastman (Chemical) is our largest utilizer of apprenticeship programs … the goal is to go after additional grant dollars to implement this strategy.”
Eastman Training Associate Laurey Conway noted Eastman currently has 408 apprentices in 12 different occupations.
“There are several different benefits to an apprentice program,” she told the group. “The main one is we know how to train people who do not know how to be mechanics, or operators or lab analysts, etc. … we also call it a structured training program … it used to be book learning, nowadays it’s mostly online but they test on job-related material … they have to be qualified and certified.”
Jeff McCord, Northeast State’s vice president for Economic and Workforce Development, pointed out one of the things the community college has the benefit of seeing is companies like Eastman having a long history of apprenticeships.
“A journeyman certificate is a degree. You have a different accrediting body but it’s a degree,” McCord insisted.