Employer: School vocational programs could use boost - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Employer: School vocational programs could use boost

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By David Carroll

dcarroll@wrcbtv.com

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- The Tennessee Valley is seeing an influx of new manufacturing plants, bringing the potential for thousands of new high-tech jobs.  

But are Hamilton County schools producing the type of workers these companies need, or are they having to look elsewhere to fill positions?

Some are concerned that these jobs may be out of the reach of local residents. District 9 Hamilton County Commissioner Chester Bankston said, "The Volkswagen people have already told us that the people they hire have got to be trainable. We've got to go a little further in getting students ready for technical work."

Alstom has made nearly a 400 million dollar investment on a new plant by the riverfront. It makes turbines and generators for power producers. The company already employs about 300 workers. Combined with the original boiler plant next door, Alstom will soon have a thousand workers on payroll.

But Alstom Human Resources Director Kurt Greene said, "The fact is the workers for the higher skilled positions are not here, and in many cases we do need to go somewhere else." Greene says the vocational classes taught in today's high schools are helpful, but may not go far enough.

"Certainly when it comes to welding and machining, they teach the basics, but we take those skills to a whole new level.  Still, it's a great place to start."

Greene says many factory jobs of the past now require computer skills and state of the art machinery and tools. He says his company and others would welcome the opportunity to have a say in new educational initiatives.

"There's always more that we can be doing," Greene says. "We're always willing to work with the city and county to make education even better than it is today.  We would certainly want a place at the table when there are any discussions about how to improve vocational education."

That would please students like Angelia Evans, an East Ridge High senior who enjoys her Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) class, with designs on a potential high-tech career.

She said, "I think they should train more students in classes like this. You can get new jobs, and good jobs learning a trade like this."

The question remains, is there political support for an expansion of Hamilton County's career and technical programs?  If so, what would be the most likely site, and what would happen to existing high school vocational classes?  We will examine those issues Tuesday at 6:00.

Working Together for You: Check coverage in Tuesday's newspaper from our parnters at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Read more here.

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