Vocational training proposed for Sevier students

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 11:31 PM

A proposed program involving county schools and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology could help local high school students and adults get training in fields like carpentry and mechanics.

TCAT is the new name for Tennessee Technology Centers — schools that are under the Board of Regents system and specialize in technical training.

The Sevier County Economic Development Council is championing the idea. Director Allen Newton said it’s something industries have been asking for, and could help in attracting new industries to the county.

“We want to put a college of applied technology in Sevier County,” he said.

For high school students, it would be a dual enrollment program — they would remain in their high school while also attending classes overseen by TCAT instructors. In that sense, it would be similar to programs already offered at Walter State.

Newton hopes industries will help determine which skills should be taught.

Sevier County Schools Director Jack Parton has already said school property can be used for the classes, Newton said.

Patrick Wade is a high school counselor with TCAT; he said employers are starting to look for more employees with technical training. “Right now, the market is shifting to the technical side,” he said.

Wade said working with TCAT can help improve graduation rates, because it would help students find classes they believe will lead to a real career for them. Not every high school student is interested in going to college, he said, and schools need to train  students for the types of careers they want.

“There’s a large number of students that are getting missed,” he said.

Jerry Patton, a retired TCAT director, emphasized the schools are accredited colleges, and part of the state’s Board of Regents system. “We’ve always been a college,” he said.

Sevier County school officials believe the program will improve the graduation rate, said Carissa Mitchell, coordinator for the school system’s Workforce Investment Act program.

Enrollment in vocational classes is dropping because increasing requirements for science and other classes leave students with less time for electives, but there are still lots of students who would prefer technical training for careers they already want to pursue.

“We’ve got tons of students that would really like to do this,” she said.

The classes could count as credits for high school and for TCAT, and graduates could continue pursuing TCAT training during evening courses aimed at helping adults train for new careers.

Newton said the local work force is a frequent topic when industries consider locating here — naturally, industry scouts want to hear that there are local people with the specific skills they need.

In fact, they’ve talked with some local industry representatives about the skills they’d like to see added to the work force. Basic math skills ranked highest, but electrical skills and quality control were not far behind.

He said they hope to keep that dialogue open, so that they can turn out students prepared to fill the needs of local industries and better ensure that students have local jobs waiting for them when they graduate

jfarrell@themountainpress.com