Workforce Development, Are We Up to the Task? – A Guest Editorial

editorial-logo3David Seal is a guest editorialist this week on The Post. David is a long time educator in Jefferson County, as well as a recognized artist and local businessman. He also serves Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and as a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain and broadband accessibility on the state level. Thanks to David for his contribution to this week’s editorial.

People often ask me why I sold my contracting business a few years ago. The answer is simple, lack of qualified workers that are ready to fill open positions and go to work on plumbing, electrical, and sheet metal jobs. Multiply this problem by a factor of several thousand and you get a picture of what is causing productivity problems and giving employers heart burn while trying to staff their businesses. It is a nationwide problem. Sixty percent of the job applicants walking through the HR door seeking employment have risk factors that make them unfit for employment, if you can get applicants to walk through the door at all. The problem is not new and is not limited to contracting jobs.

How did we get here? By being disconnected from reality. For decades, public schools, universities, state and federal education regulators, and parents have placed more emphasis on a four year college degree than training needed for the seventy percent of available jobs that require some form of technical training. In my role as a career and technical teacher, I have actually encountered parents that were fearful that their student would choose to be a welder or electrician if their student were to be exposed to “so-called” blue collar job skills while enrolled in a vocational exploratory course in high school. To combat this disconnect from reality, organizations have formed to encourage students to seek lucrative careers that do not require a four year degree. One such example is the Mike Rowe Foundation, which struggles to give away its vast reserve of scholarship money for technical training. Foundation web link provided here:

On the other hand, Jefferson County High School has made progress with school-to-work initiatives. Credit for this progress goes in part to Dr. Scott Walker, Principal of Jefferson County High School, for implementing practices that cause students to explore careers of all types, ninth grade enrollment in construction courses, encouraging students to earn a work ethic diploma and industry certification, recognition of vocational student achievement, and a requirement that ninth graders participate in meaningful career exploration, not to mention the fact that JCHS has 26 full time Career and Technical teachers that prepare students for a variety of careers. Dr. Shane Johnston, Director of Jefferson County Schools, emphasized that students need to be prepared for a variety of success pathways when they graduate, including vocational-technical, college and military. He also emphasized the teaching of values and character development for all students as he made his first county-wide address to teachers. This is a good thing.

Jefferson County has the potential to meet the needs of its students and fulfill the requirements of local employers. The question is, will we actually follow through and get the job done? A group called the East Tennessee Regional Leadership Association is planning a day of hand-shaking, listening to speakers, and bus touring of Jefferson County to talk about workforce development. Historically the problem is that we have talked about workforce development, but done little to make the rubber hit the road. As a result, we are now in a labor crisis and talking may be too little, too late. The cycle we are experiencing is akin to purchasing a burglar alarm two days after your house is robbed. Heaven knows that I have sounded the alarm on worker training and workforce development for years, but few have paid attention. I pray that we can now succeed; I am standing by if anyone is open for suggestions.

Source: David Seal