CareerQuest Tennessee puts students on the road to careers


Photo: Northeast State’s Ron Broadwater instructs a student in the finer points of welding. Photo by Scott Robertson

By Scott Robertson

In one quarter of the ETSU mini-dome, a student wore a virtual reality headset, moving his hands to interact with the alternate reality in front of his eyes. Fifty yards away, another student sat in a backhoe training chair, working the controls to produce actions on a video screen. In yet another area, a young lady learned proper welding techniques while her friend investigated the inner workings of a Bell helicopter. And in the medical quarter, another young lady punctured the “skin” of a faux arm with a needle as part of a quick round of phlebotomy training.

It was all part of CareerQuest Tennessee, a massive March 21-22 effort by the First Tennessee Development District to bring 5,000+ students from Northeast Tennessee (and Bristol, Va.) into direct contact with dozens of local employers in the fields of information technology, construction, advanced manufacturing and health care. Students and educators got a first-hand view of what employers will be hiring people to do in the next few years. Employers had the opportunity to make connections with bright students whom they will want to keep tabs on as the students close in on graduation.

“In late 2015, the eight county mayors (in Northeast Tennessee) approved a collective focus on initiatives in our region that could improve our workforce and ready our students for the jobs of the future,” Leon Humphrey, chair of the FTDD, said. “CareerQuest Tennessee is just one way we can do this for students in our region. More than 5,200 students are experiencing this industry-led interactive experience.”

A student trains for a construction job by using virtual technology. Photo by Scott Robertson

The construction and advanced manufacturing areas appeared particularly eye-opening for the students, many of whom may have thought of those fields as being dominated by dirty, manual labor-intensive types of jobs.

Matt Montgomery, a surveyor and CAD technician with J.A. Street, showed off a $10,000 drone that can be pre-programed to survey an entire site, along with a robotic surveying station that uses infrared and radio transmission to lock onto its target. “This technology has all come about in the last few years,” Montgomery said. “Everything has really jumped up. This drone for instance, you can tell it where the boundaries of your site are, and it will triangulate how many lines it will need to fly across to map out the entire property.

“It’s all stepping up and getting easier to use,” Montgomery told students, “but there are a lot of things you’ve got to learn in order to use it right.”

Just as the students were learning things about their potential future employers, the employers were gaining insight into their future workforce. “I’ll tell you,” said Tommy Burleson, owner of Burleson Construction, “the girls are picking up this construction stuff at about five times the rate of the boys.”

The event was attended by Adriana Harrington, executive director of Tennessee’s Pathways program, a partnership designed to create clear paths for students to go from middle school through various different tracks into the workforce.
“Everyone in this room is creating that seamless transition for students from pre-K through K-12 on through higher education, be it through post-secondary credentials, community college, TCATs or four-year colleges, and then on to careers. The success of industry and education are seamlessly intertwined, and what’s being done here today is really inspirational.”

CareerQuest was part of a continuum effort being made by the First Tennessee Development District’s Workforce Initiatives office. CareerQuest gives students the opportunity to explore potential career choices. The Pathways program works out roadmaps from secondary school to career success through options including four-year college, community college, certificate programs and direct to workforce options. In addition, all of Northeast Tennessee’s counties are taking part in the Work Ready Diploma program.

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