Greater Chattanooga is Building a Better Workforce
Throughout Greater Chattanooga, top employers, including BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, BASF and NOVONIX, offer talent initiatives that support the region’s sustainable workforce.
Minding the Talent Gap
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee created the BlueSky Tennessee Institute to grow the information technology workforce in the area. The program partners with East Tennessee State University to develop a pathway to a bachelor’s degree in computer science in just 27 months, rather than the traditional four years.
“Technology is vital to how we serve our members and help them access needed care. We employ around 950 IT professionals, and like many other companies, we are always on the lookout for talent in that area. Our IT division has about 150 openings at any given time,” says Bradley Leon, executive director of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s BlueSky Tennessee Institute.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee also offers internships and other hands-on experiences for students to ensure they are learning the skills needed to immediately enter the workforce.
“This is a great opportunity for motivated students that should raise the amount of tech talent for BlueCross, and we hope it will inspire other organizations to establish similar programs aimed at boosting the amount of tech talent available to established companies and startups across the state,” Leon says.
A Smart Start
NOVONIX, a developer and supplier of materials, equipment, and services for the lithium-ion battery industry, partnered with Hamilton County Schools to launch the NOVONIX Institute of Advanced Battery Technology (NIABT) at Lookout Valley Middle/High School. The high school training program is part of Hamilton County Schools’ Future Ready Institutes and is focused on STEM-based learning.
“Students will be able to develop and increase their knowledge in technology, engineering, and manufacturing basics. This will give them the skills and experience that are in high demand yet not directly taught in the classroom,” says Danny Deas, president of NOVONIX Anode Materials. “The NOVONIX Future Ready Institute aims to empower the next generation of individuals with specialized skills and knowledge necessary to transition our local community, our state, and our country into a more sustainable energy future and to succeed in the global clean energy economy.”
NOVONIX has invested nearly $500,000 into the program to date, including a full-time program leader. The company has also invested in developing a curriculum and retrofitting existing classroom space into a state-of-the-art training lab that prepares students for careers in manufacturing and battery sciences.
“NOVONIX has requirements for talent with a wide array of experience. Our machine operators are equally important to our success as advanced engineers, so there are tremendous opportunities for folks without a four-year degree. As the industry grows, NOVONIX is committed to helping grow the required highly skilled workforce. These specific skill sets are necessary for entry-level positions in career fields currently expanding at NOVONIX and, more broadly, throughout the booming electric vehicle and battery materials sectors.”
Danny Deas, President of NOVONIX Anode Materials
BASF, a global chemical company with a manufacturing presence in Chattanooga, recently teamed up with Chattanooga State Community College to launch a 12-month apprenticeship program. Apprentices are paid a full wage as well as benefits, while earning a certificate in chemical engineering technology from Chattanooga State. The program even pays the cost of tuition, books and fees.
“We are excited to launch the apprenticeship program at the Chattanooga site,” says Brittany Davis, operations manager at BASF in Chattanooga. “We truly value our partnership with Chattanooga State Community College and know the apprenticeship participants will receive the skill sets needed for our process technician roles. The opportunity to gain hands-on experience while learning in the classroom is invaluable to creating diverse skill sets, backgrounds and ways of thinking.”
Learning by Doing
In addition to these companies’ talent initiatives, Chattanooga and Hamilton County were selected as one of the nation’s five Apprenticeship Innovation Districts under the banner of BuildWithin, a four-year national apprenticeship drive approved by the Department of Labor.
The BuildWithin initiative helps area businesses create and expand their apprenticeship programs to train more workers and fill more jobs. BuildWithin allows residents to “earn while they learn,” gaining knowledge and experience to ultimately move into high-demand, high-paying and fulfilling careers.
Besides the city and county, others involved in this initiative include Hamilton County Schools, The Benwood Foundation, and Chattanooga 2.0. Apprenticeships are available in various fields, including carpentry, electrical, cybersecurity, and software development.
Kevin Litwin contributed to this article.
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By Teree Caruthers on August 7, 2023 – Livability