Local school districts and Ford begin conversations about how to build a high tech workforce that will reap a great harvest for our communities

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By Senator Page Walley

It has been an exciting week for our Senate District. Our legislative delegation met with the leadership of the Ford Motor Company, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and Tennessee Department of Education, as well as Chief Executive Officer of the Megasite Authority Clay Bright and others as site preparation and construction of the Blue Oval City facility begins to ramp up.
Maybe even more importantly are the many conversations which are currently going on regarding how our communities, using their own planning and entrepreneurial initiatives, can prepare for the gigantic construction workforce of 30,000 which will be in our area soon. Among the most intriguing conversations currently going on is how our communities are getting prepared to train the thousands of workers that will be making these vehicles and the batteries that power them.
A high tech workforce is essential to auto manufacturers, especially when we are talking about electric vehicles. During the Special Session, we approved a Tennessee College of Applied Technology which will be located at Blue Oval City to train many of those workers, but to have a good supply of workers, we need to grow our own workforce by reaching beyond our colleges and technical schools. We must reach into our district’s local school systems. It is important that students have the critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities, and real work experience that are needed for these high tech jobs.
In other words you do not wait until a vehicle is ready to be produced to get the workforce who will produce it. That starts now. We are working with our state education leadership and Ford to build those relationships and make those connections to begin preparing the workforce today.
Those who have grown up in agricultural communities understand the law of the harvest. You are going to reap what you sow, reap later than you sow and reap more than you sow. We are having to sow now for our workforce. Most assuredly, we will be reaping great benefits from this later. When it is time to produce these vehicles, we are going to have these young people ready with the skills they need to get a great job. This could begin in 2022 with our ninth graders. When they graduate in four years, the plant will be open.
This is an incredible opportunity for these students to stay in their communities with a great job, but this does not just benefit the students and their families; it reaps a harvest for all of our communities. Students who go on to gain good paying jobs create more financial activity for our local businesses. They also generate more tax revenues that help support our schools and other essential needs that make our communities a great place to live and raise a family. It will benefit our region for decades to come.
There is an extraordinary amount of work we must do community by community, and in our region as a whole, to achieve what we are building here at the Megasite. Securing this wonderful opportunity took a lot of work, but now it is going to take even more and smarter work to stand it up and bring this project to life. Doing that with our workforce is one vital component of that effort, but it is an exciting one for our students. They are going to see an immediate impact with the training they are going to be able to get as a result of the joint efforts to get our workforce ready for these new high quality jobs.