While Hickman County’s unemployment rate is at a 44-year low, local jobs remain available—but applicants must have the right set of skills to qualify for them.
“We have a very good workforce in Hickman County, but we do not have a technically certified workforce,” says Rob Mitchell, who was jobs specialist here for several years before becoming East Hickman High’s college adviser.
Mitchell said last week that the 2.6 percent unemployment rate listed here in May is offset by 131 local jobs, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “Some of those jobs are connected to organizations such as the Tennessee National Guard, but the majority are connected to private employer positions requiring post-secondary certification. Many are in the medical field and other at a technical level in industries.”
Those certifications are at the heart of two recent training programs; Tennessee Promise, for emerging high school students, and Tennessee Reconnect, for adults who want to complete a college-level degree or certification. The latter program is just now being rolled out here, through Columbia State; visit www.tnRecconect.gov to find out more.
“You can get a job,” says Jan McKeel, executive director of the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance. “It may not be the job you necessarily want, because you may be missing a skill.” McKeel has been overseeing workforce development issues in this region for 26 years, and the need for training is a challenge in the eight counties she’s focused on—not just Hickman. The Promise and Reconnect Programs are critical components to overcoming not only employer needs for skilled workers as well as making sure that incoming industries can fill their labor needs. “This is something that we have to think about,” McKeel said. “You don’t ever want to be at the place where employers can’t get people hired.” “We are in the type of economy now where it is life-long learning,” said McKeel. “I’m taking any type of training – TCAT, 4-year, industry certification. The time to get ready is before the jobs are there.”
Brenda Brock, executive director of the Hickman County Economic and Community Development Association, says part of her work is spending time with employers to help overcome such challenges. “We will need to understand what skills our local employers need now and what they predict they will need in the future,” she says. “We need to bring partners to the table often, to address the workforce issue—our K-12 schools, TCAT’s, state college in this area and our industries are key to those discussions, as well as looking at and understanding the jobs and industries as a region.” An effort to gather industrial employers together to discuss this in September is in the works. Brock said.
“We need to understand the barriers for our high school graduates and our folks that work out of the county that want to need to learn new skills to stay employable or to advance in their employment, “Brock said. Adults who want training are challenged by the time squeeze, especially when they already are working and raising families; child care and transportation are just two of those. Brock said local night classes are one approach.
“Making sure we have internet so they can do their studies from wherever,” said McKeel.
Rising employment can help raise wages, making industries complete for workers. The trend more sharply defines the need for training. “It’s one of those things we as a workforce board…..we push and push and push for folds to get additional skills,” the regional executive said.
Of course, a major part of Brock’s job is pursing potential new employers, so the skills issue is high on the list. The challenge is especially difficult in Hickman County, where as much as 80 percent of local workers commute out of Hickman for their work. Depending on the type of industry recruited, encouraging some of those folks to come home can strengthen the local economy. “To lure any of our folks home to work, we will need to attract industries that pay at least $16 an hour.” Brock said. “Fifty percent of the 80 percent population that is driving outside are making $20 plus an hour.” Attracting new workers here, Brock says, also means new housing developments will be needed in East Hickman and Centerville, as well as apartment developments in Bon Aqua and Lyles.
“Multi-use development would be great in Bon Aqua to lure millennials here that want to live-work-play here,” she said. “This could be spurred on by positive talks of incorporation.”
In the region, population growth has be sufficient to offset the demands on the workforce—allowing companies to establish and grow.
In Hickman County’s case, the number of unemployed persons is shrinking—280 in May, down from 490 a year ago—but the key, McKeel said, is whether the total available labor force continues to grow. Here? 10,890 persons in May, compared to 10,640 last July. “To sustain the job growth, we have to have them moving into the area.” She said. “I think that’s one of the special things that is going on in Middle Tennessee.”
Members of the chamber’s Business-Education Council, which has been meeting for five years to better align the schools with career needs, holds its annual brainstorm event on August 1, 2017, at 8 am at East Hickman High School.
Source: Hickman County Times