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EDC Plans Career Path Education Initiative

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The Economic Development Council will begin an initiative early next year to educated students on available career path alternatives.

It could also help to replenish a local workforce which is being quickly depleted as new industry continues to move into the area.

The EDC chose the Waterhouse Public Relations firm to create the campaign, which is planned for a January kickoff.

“For a couple of years, we have been working on how to generate more employees for our local industries. It can be a really critical problem,” said EDC Chairman Bob McIntire. “As we’re talking to new industries, that is one of the big concerns. Volkswagen just announced they would be hiring a couple of thousand more, so the labor pool is getting thin. We’re not producing them quick enough and qualified enough.”

He explained the Waterhouse firm has been working on a plan “to get the word out.”

“We also want to overcome the stigma of industry,” McIntire said. “It’s not dark. It’s not dirty. It’s highly-skilled and clean.”

Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gary Farlow said the initiative would be a “multi-year project.”

“We can’t just do a quick public relations campaign and expect that to change the perception of people,” Farlow said.

Albert Waterhouse recently addressed the EDC and spoke of the drive’s goals and objectives.

“This is really a team effort,” Waterhouse said. “We know a lot about public relations, but we didn’t really know a lot about workforce development until we started working with you last June.”

He said his firm had “gone through a lot of information and research” in designing a campaign.

Waterhouse described the following objects for the new project. They are:

- Implement a regional plan to raise awareness for skilled workforce training available and the multiple resources to create a workforce for the future.

- Shift public perceptions regarding the quality of well-paying jobs available through skilled career training.

- Educate audiences that a two-year degree or certificate is easily attainable with little or no student loan debt.

- Change the outlook among all target audiences that these jobs are lifelong, sustainable careers and respected in any community.

- Create a unified voice with business and civic leaders that emphasizes workforce development as the most important initiative for growth and economic development in the region.

Waterhouse said there is much student debt. It is an important factor to show going into the industrial workforce can be done without increasing the debt and, in some cases, may not have a cost associated with it at all.

“We have also talked to a lot of parents who say, ‘My kids are going to a four-year college no matter what’ because there is a stigma about manufacturing jobs that they are low-pay and dirty. There is a lot of negative perceptions,” he said. “So, we’re going to change that.”

Waterhouse house said statistics are showing that as much as 80 percent of the newly-created jobs of the future will be manufacturing and technical-type positions.

He said the target audiences for the campaigns would include administrators, teachers and counselors; parents; prospective students; prospective employers and prospective employees; underemployed workers; veterans; guests of the court system; elected officials and civic leaders; the general public; and local and regional media.

Waterhouse said he had held a meeting with school counselors the same day as the EDC session which he described as “excellent.”

He said that, as it is with any product, the program must have a brand.

“We tested a lot of names, a lot of looks and a lot of logos,” Waterhouse said. “When we came up with the brand, it seemed to ring true with all of our test audiences.”

He added the new logo and title will be appearing in all forms of media, even to the point of being on clothing.

“We found students love T-shirts. We’ll get these out into the community using sporting events and other means,” Waterhouse said.

Natalie Jenereski, who works with social media for Waterhouse, said a central, interactive hub for the distribution of information about the initiative is also being developed.

“We have grown the approach and are going into the factories and getting photographs — showing the hands-on things and what that looks like,” Jenereski said.

Waterhouse said workforce development sites across the country are “dry and boring.”

“We want to show opportunity. We want to show innovation. We want to show cool and hip, but we’re going to integrate it with more of the manufacturing message on the website,” he said.

Jenereski said the strategy would also include the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

“With those, we can create succinct messaging for press coverage and happenings surrounding the program as well as create social media advertisements to increase reach and engagement,” she said.

Waterhouse said meeting would be continuing and would begin “organizing business, industry, elected officials, educators, parents, current students, graduates and civic leaders to become ambassadors and stewards for the campaign.”

He said there will be testimonial videos showing students talking about why they took the path and about the good jobs they have obtained as well as parents who are pleased their child “took this route.”

Waterhouse said there was the realization there is a lack of internet access in the rural areas, meaning a lack of real internet skills.

“We took a real rural strategy that we will reach those communities through bill inserts, posters, bag stuffers, community meetings and those types of efforts,” he added.

Waterhouse said the campaign would be launched in January.

“We are going to have a press conference, get the governor in, get state EDC Commissioner Randy Boyd in, and all the elected officials,” he said. “I think we will get statewide media coverage because workforce development is such a hot topic right now.”

He said this first wave of the program would end with the school year, but relaunch in September 2017.

Farlow said this was in no way an attempt to sway students from pursuing a four-year academic career.

“Ultimately what we are trying to do is make sure those middle school and high school students have the proper information to make the smart decision and recognize that they may need to go to a technical community college path instead of automatically processing through a four-year university,” said Doug Berry, Chamber vice president of economic development.

“Our parents told us that college was where we were going,” Berry said. “There is actually a financial alternative under today’s financial conditions where you can get your two-year degree in this state practically for free and then once you are in companies like Wacker, if you are a good and productive employee, they are going to help you get the rest of the education you need.”

Farlow reiterated, “This is not an anti four-year college program.”

“Those schools are now called the Tennessee College of Applied Technology,” Farlow said. “That name change was to try to get people out of the mindset those schools are for the kids that can’t get into a four-year school.”

He said conversations with current individuals in the STEM program have shown many spoke of engineering programs that had four-year degrees.

“Our industries need those, too,” Farlow said. “It’s not necessarily just technical careers. This is a good way to get a start — get a job — and start working. A lot of companies will pay for that extra education. This is a start for that and they can still transfer to a four-year college.”

However, Berry noted, the area “needs more two-year skills than four-year skills in this employer market.”

“Ultimately, our job is to meet the demand of this industrial base and their needs,” Berry said. “And, we can point out to students they can achieve any of the goals they set for themselves through that channel.”