Conference aims to close the 'training gap' that leaves searchers without jobs - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Conference aims to close the 'training gap' that leaves searchers without jobs

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - His Psychology degree from UT  taught him plenty about the human condition.

So why is Hixson native Alex Shirk learning about electrical connections at Chattanooga State's
Wacker Institute?

"I had the wrong idea about a career and I partied a  little bit too much," he says.

"I would much rather have come here and gotten on my career path rather than just take something for no reason."

His odds are better than good.

Wacker has offered jobs to 95% percent of those completing its four-semester program, according to Institute Director Dr. George Graham, though the polysilicon solar chip factory in Charleston is still more than a year from opening.

"Just getting the pilot lab built in their timeframe was very challenging," Dr. Graham says. "The academic part is something Chatt State had a lot of experience with."

Dr. Graham refers to the approach as 'conceptualized training;' applying mathematics and science concepts to 'real world' situations.

"It's not memorizing something and taking a test," Shirk says. "It's something I will use so it makes it more fun to learn."

"The change is not incremental," Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says.

"It's monumental, what we have to do."

As Chairman of the South Growth Policies Board, Governor Haslam has brought business leaders, educators, and economic developers to Chattanooga Monday and Tuesday to hash out ways to close the 'training gap' in a conference titled "Re-Imagining Workforce Development."

"They get it, Chattanooga gets it," Gov. Haslam says. Chattanooga got behind the curve when manufacturing changed, but reacted to it very well.

Volkswagen Chattanooga's Human Resources Director, Hans-Herbert Jagla, confirms that he's be able to find the workers needed to ramp up assembly of the Passat midsize sedan. A third shift will add 1,000 workers.

"It's more, the attitude and the behavior we're looking for," Jagla says.

"But we need people, in the organization, for example, skilled workers."

It's one reason VW has the Volkswagen Academy, it's own tailored, Tennessee-tax-dollars-aided, training program.

"The schools are doing a great job, but they could be more rigid, more bold," Jagla continues. "Important is that we have a standard within the system that rewards the teachers very well."

The 'teaching gap' opens at the elementary level, asserts Marc Tucker, President & CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a think-tank and policy analysis group based in Washington, DC.

"Other countries, all of them understand that you're not gonna get all kids to high standards, unless you're recruiting your teachers from the very top of the high school graduates," Tucker tells Conference attendees.

"Teachers have to be paid, to be valued, the same as the entry-level engineers they're training."

Gov. Haslam questions whether such a fundamental shift in thinking, and compensation, is practical, short-term.
"We don't have the luxury of saying, oh, we have five years to get ready," he says.

The Governor will be taking information gleaned from the two-day conference, 'on the road' to business leaders across Tennessee, later this summer.

"We want to know 'what do you need, how can they deliver it,' he says.
Shirk hasn't received a job offer from Wacker yet. But he's confident the training is worth the $10,000 investment in tuition and text books.

"For one of my classes I had to put in an application for another job, somewhere else," he says.

"I used my background here. And I guess they're looking into me for a position."

"So I guess it (the training) translates."

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