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To Create Workforce Pipeline, Tennessee Turns to Education and Policy ‘Wholeness’

By Deanna Ross  |  May 3, 2023

Tennessee uses a “common sense approach” to identify challenges in workforce development and provide key policy options to ensure a pipeline of well-prepared workers, state Sen. Becky Massey says.

Massey told a packed ballroom at the recent 2023 National Association of Workforce Boards Annual Forum about the Tennessee Promise Program, which includes two years of free technical education or community college to shift the focus from the traditional “K through 12” to “K through J,” with the “J” meaning “jobs.”

“Making sure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in our economy is crucial, and that is going to look different for everyone.”

—Tennessee Sen. Becky Massey

Massey, who serves on NCSL’s Executive Committee and co-chairs the NCSL Labor and Economic Development Committee, said the program also focuses on ensuring a more “seamless transfer from education to work to create a more sustainable workforce.”

“New business development requires an appropriately trained workforce to meet high-tech jobs that are available in Tennessee right now,” she said, adding that onsite training and education services are being developed to better recruit, train and retain workers in high-tech jobs throughout the state. Massey said Tennessee continues to improve its occupational licensure portability within the trucking industry for those with criminal records seeking reentry into the workforce.

Massey encouraged states to explore the full policy landscape with the idea of “wholeness” in mind: intertwining strings of policy—in education, mental health, transportation and more—that together play a vital part in how the workforce and economy function; and comprehensive legislative solutions to combat modern workforce issues. Acknowledging that workforce shortages exist throughout the U.S., Massey stressed the importance of recognizing “education as the base” when looking to create a more sustainable workforce development pipeline.

Massey, who is a member of the bipartisan National Task Force on Workforce Mental Health Policy, said programs should help “everyone reach their potential” and include those in the workforce who may now be on the fringes of society.

“Making sure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in our economy is crucial, and that is going to look different for everyone,” she said.

Workforce development boards, stakeholders and businesses should reach out and get to know their state legislators so that challenges can be more readily recognized, and policy solutions more readily identified, Massey said, adding, “If you have valuable information and ideas, please share it!”

Deanna Ross is a legislative specialist in NCSL’s State-Federal Relations Program.

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