Business, Membership

TBR Members in the News

Business, Education

Securing Tennessee’s Workforce: The Future is NOW

A New Paradigm for our Business Community and Nine Keys to Success

This piece was originally published in the TBR Member Update on June 23, 2017 

By TBR President Pat Sheehy

How do we get more Tennesseans job- ready in the skill areas of greatest need to our state’s economy? In talking with our state’s business leaders and allied organizations, I’ve learned this is the question that keeps many of them up at night. 

I’ve heard great examples of employers investing in their businesses through opportunities for young Tennesseans, and about great efforts by local business nonprofits to inform, encourage and facilitate workforce development.

 Yet those joyful noises are still being drowned out by a growing din of alarm and doubt among employers, economists and workforce experts: “It’s still not enough.” “We can’t find qualified workers.” “Who’s really doing something about this?”

It’s time for employers and our organizations to put it all together for Tennessee. In partnership with educators, governments, and each other, Tennessee businesses and our nonprofits should embrace a new paradigm:

The future of Tennessee’s workforce begins nowFor our businesses, our state, and our peoplewe must take action individually and collectively, and with others,to produce more workers, with better skills, matching our most-needed jobs,now and for the future of Tennessee’s economy.

How do we achieve this vision? Here are nine key ideas that should inform action by Tennessee’s business community:

  1. Tomorrow’s employees need active employer support all the way from K to J. As tomorrow’s employees begin journeying from kindergarten to job (“K to J”), companies cannot simply wait at the end of the road for them to arrive—we have to actively help them get there. Our education system provides the “roads” for these “occupational motorists” to travel, but if we want more of them to arrive at our doors sooner and job-ready with the skills we need, business must take an active role in providing guard rails, signage, lighting, maps, and even billboards all along their way. If we don’t, too many of them will continue wandering on unproductive, lifelong “road trips”. 
  1. Career awareness is critical—early, often, and in every way possible. “When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut, ballerina, You-Tuber…” Kids begin forming career impressions at shockingly early ages. Too often, they don’t connect to actual job opportunities. If we want more workers at our doors sooner, job-ready with the skills we need, we must “market” our jobs to them—early, aggressively and often. How? Show and tell—in person or on-screen—in front of classes, student groups, parents, and individual students, as early and often as possible. Show them how our skilled positions will deliver the cash for phones, clothes, and cars. Let them see and feel the satisfaction and confidence that “winning” at work delivers.  
  1. K-12 advisors need business expertise, resources and support. Another emerging reality: The adults in the most critical positions from which to influence K-12 students’ career formation are under incredible strain. Too many of them have too many students to serve, not enough professional development opportunities, and are the “staffer of first resort” when a school needs an adult to stop what they’re doing to fill a need or solve a problem. Businesses can step up and step in to help. How many of your staff can contribute mentorship, talent-management acumen, work-world hacks, or professional development support to lift up advisors in your K-12 communities?  
  1. More future workers are learning by doing. With eyes and minds re-wired by electronic screentime, people now learn more by doing than from listening and reading. When K-12 and college students engage in work-based learning (WBL), they grasp theory through practical execution—to real-world standards. They gain soft skills they can’t get in classrooms, and discover the power of paychecks. When they exit the educational system, the employers from whom they’ve learned are tops on their career agenda—and they contribute more and sooner as permanent hires. The WBL approach delivers better results than “give me somebody who can show up on time and pass a drug test, and we’ll train them”—over and over again.  
  1. Post-secondary instruction needs more direct business support. Accomplished businesspeople have long shared their knowledge as adjunct university professors. But Tennessee’s higher ed students and institutions need much more business acumen to inform and support post-secondary study—especially in disciplines matching the skill areas of greatest workforce need. And it’s needed throughout the higher ed system, especially in the TCAT and community college programs into which TN Promise students have begun to flow in greater numbers–and which are struggling to find enough instructors to teach them.  
  1. When the pie grows bigger, everybody gets more. It’s clear that solving Tennessee’s workforce riddle is going to require mobilizing all of the available talent sources in our state. We need numbers, and can’t afford to overlook the talent in people with barriers to employment. There’s so much we can do to grow Tennessee’s talent pie. We can unlock doors for ex-offenders and help veterans “translate” their MOS’s to the skills required for the jobs we need most. We can support employees who want to “re-Connect” and enable those with physical or mental challenges to participate fully in our workforce.  
  1. Employers must take primary responsibility for making it happen. For too long, business owners have focused comfortably on our operations and customers, expecting our workforce to simply appear when needed—and leaving the heavy lifting to our school districts, governments and charitable nonprofits. How’s that working out for us? Not well enough. Business needs to apply the power of free enterprise in taking charge of our workforce destiny, and accept a primary role in overcoming the inefficiency and lack of resources and coordination which constrain public-sector efforts. If we don’t, our businesses and state economy face growing risks.  
  1. How do we eat an employment “elephant”? One bite at a time. “We can’t possibly turn this around—it’s too big a problem.” Not one of us has enough time, people, or resources to solve our own employment riddle. Larger companies invest in last-mile pipelines for enterprise-critical talent, at great expense. But sustaining Tennessee’s economic success requires each and every cog in our state’s economic engine to include workforce outreach in its business plan—and take meaningful action. Nobody needs to do everything, but each company must do something for Tennessee’s K to J talent pipeline.  
  1. Sustained progress requires the three C’s. Many businesses and organizations are already developing programs that respond to their populations and industry cluster needs. They’ve gotten companies to actively contribute time, treasure and know-how to develop their communities’ workforces. These investments are producing results, and they prove that business recognizes it must invest in workforce. Tennessee will win the talent competition when we coordinate such efforts, collaborate to fill in the gaps, and execute our commitments.  

Let’s move from talking and commiserating about our workforce challenges into action on them—so Tennessee’s economy and communities can continue to grow and to provide critical private and public benefits to the Tennesseans who bring it all to life.

Business, Leadership, Policy

TBR to Host 2018 TN Gubernatorial Candidate “Round-Robin” on Sept. 12 in Nashville

In conjunction with the Roundtable’s Fall 2017 Board Meeting in Nashville, TBR members and invitees will have an opportunity to hear directly from the men and women who want to serve as Tennessee’s next Governor.

TBR is inviting the 2018 gubernatorial candidates to share their respective policy visions for our state at its 2018 Gubernatorial Round-Robin on Tuesday, Sept. 12, time and location TBD.

“This forum provides a unique opportunity to have candid conversations with gubernatorial candidates about issues important to not only Farm Bureau but also the business community at large,” stated Anthony Kimbrough, CEO of Farm Bureau Health Plans. “I look forward to learning more about the candidates and their positions.”

TBR has invited the following declared candidates to provide remarks and take Q&A, in a serial non-debate format, with Roundtable members and invited guests:

  • Mae Beavers (R), Middle TN, State Senator (District 17)
  • Randy Boyd (R), East TN, business owner (Radio Systems Corp.) and former Commissioner of Economic and Community Development
  • Karl Dean (D),Middle TN, former mayor of Nashville
  • Beth Harwell (R), Middle TN, TN House Speaker
  • Bill Lee (R), Middle TN, business owner (Lee Company)

Others considering bids for governor include U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R) and TN House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D). The gubernatorial primary election will be held Aug. 2, 2018, with the general election on Nov. 6.

Registration for the Round-Robin is available to all TBR members, and to their invited guests via invitation only.  Click here to request event sponsorship information.

Business, Education

TBR Work-Based Learning Summit: A “Home Run” for TN Workforce Development

On Oct. 11th, the Roundtable convened a statewide Summit meeting of 140 business and education leaders to discuss the use of Work-Based Learning (WBL) at the high school level as a way of enriching the talent pipeline into high-need industries across the state. Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen, and Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Burns Phillips participated in the event to share the importance of WBL from each Department’s perspective.

The Summit’s panel discussions showcased several subject matter experts, businesses and non-company “connectors” who delivered key knowledge and insights about successful use of WBL to Summit attendees.  Many TBR members made substantial content contributions: Continue reading

Business, Education

TBR Member Update: Work Based Learning

 TBR Member Update: Work Based Learning

Dear Roundtable members,

As we so often hear, there is a real and pressing need for a more prepared, skilled workforce. The Roundtable is involved with many efforts to address this issue. The Drive to 55, Pathways to Prosperity, TN Promise, and TN Reconnect are just a few of the initiatives that we participate in in an effort to address this need. We are aware that companies feel that potential employees tend to lack many of the “soft skills” necessary to be an effective and efficient worker. Many of these skills are best learned through experience within a workplace, which led us to explore the concept and utilization of work-based learning experiences.


Research into successful work-based learning models led us to visit Southwire, a company headquartered in Carrollton, Georgia, that faced the problems of high dropout rates at their local high schools and a limited pool of qualified job applicants. Continue reading

Business, Education, Policy

TBR Passes Resolution Supporting TN Promise



WHEREAS, the Tennessee Business Roundtable has long supported education advancements through support, development, and implementation of such reforms as the TN Diploma Project, First to the Top, the Complete College Act of Tennessee, Complete College Academies, and the Common Core State Standards.

WHEREAS, on February 3, 2014 the Honorable Bill Haslam, Governor of Tennessee, proposed a plan which commits to providing on a continuing basis two years of community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors.   This plan is known as the “Tennessee Promise”.

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Promise proposes to finance this tuition by strategically directing  a portion of the existing lottery scholarship reserve fund to an endowment for this purpose.

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Promise provides that a student, after graduating from a community college, chooses to attend a four-year school, the state’s transfer pathways program makes it possible for those students to start as a junior.  By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is reduced by half.

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Promise is part of the “Drive to 55” initiative aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school.  By 2025 it is estimated that 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree to get a job.  Currently only 32 percent of Tennesseans meet that criterion.

WHEREAS, if Tennessee does not have a qualified workforce in the future, jobs will neither be created nor developed in our state.  For Tennessee to continue to be the place people and businesses want to locate, live and work we must have a work force capable of filling the jobs that will exist in the future.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Tennessee Business Roundtable endorses the principles and goals of the Tennessee Promise and the Drive to 55 as being in the State’s best interest and strongly encourages the Legislature to pass the necessary legislation needed to implement the Tennessee Promise Initiative.

By adoption of the Board of Directors,

Gary Shorb, President of the Board

Business, Education, Policy

TBR Updates Resolution Supporting TN Common Core Standards




WHEREAS, education “standards” define expectations of what students should know at the conclusion of a course of study. Standards do not dictate curriculum or prescribe a particular method of instruction.  The adoption of particular standards is made at the state level.  One of the core pieces of Tennessee’s work to improve public education has been to raise the rigor of Tennessee’s academic standards.  The goal has been to implement higher standards that better prepare students for the work force or college.

WHEREAS, in 2007, public education in Tennessee was faced with a stark reality. That year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Tennessee an “F” in “Truth in Advertising”, a rating based on our state’s ability to equip graduates with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the modern workforce.  In addition, many Tennesseans were increasingly concerned about the high number of students who were entering college unprepared, unable to maintain a passing GPA, and struggling to graduate.

WHEREAS, to address these challenges, Tennessee’s Governor and the Tennessee General Assembly took the bold step of pushing for increased accountability in public education by raising academic standards in the classroom.  That same year, more than 130 business leaders from across the state worked with the Governor and key legislators, through a serious of regional meetings across the state, to outline a vision for public education in the future, a vision focused on making sure students graduate high school ready for the future.

WHEREAS, in 2008, the State Board of Education formalized this vision by raising academic standards in classrooms across Tennessee through an effort called the Tennessee Diploma Project. The Diploma Project set higher expectations for what students should know and be able to do in school and in life.

WHEREAS, at the same time, Tennessee was helping to lead a new conversation with governors and state commissioners of education from across the country about how we could continue to build on our work to raise academic standards. The idea was that the expectations for college and the workforce should be the same from state to state instead of having lower expectations in Tennessee.

WHEREAS, a new set of standards emerged out of this state-led effort, coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, called the Common Core State Standards. Tennesseans played an important role in the development of the new standards, and teachers and parents from Tennessee provided feedback on the standards before they were adopted by the State Board of Education.  These standards were adopted in July 2010.

WHEREAS, Common Core State Standards emphasize real world skills in math, reading and writing along with critical thinking and problem solving skills that better prepare students for college, for work and for being more informed citizens.  The standards also ensure that students have a deep understanding of


rigorous material instead of focusing on rote memorization and test-taking skills.  Common Core State Standards represent a remarkable advance in academic rigor and content, ensuring that students graduate from high school better prepared for the future.

WHEREAS, Tennessee is in its third year of implementation of Common Core State Standards and, along with other education reform efforts, these standards are a part of the tremendous academic gains made by students over the last three years on the National Assessment of Educational Progress ( NAEP).

WHEREAS, Tennessee, while being recognized by NAEP as the nation’s fastest-improving state for student achievement, still ranks below the average on the Nation’s Report Card and our students remain below the national average on proficiency in English and math.

WHEREAS, for Tennessee to continue to improve it is necessary to continue the reforms that helped bring about this result and to accurately measure such achievement through quality assessment. Tennessee plays a leading role in the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) and its governance which allows our educators to accurately measure whether students have mastered the course knowledge and can apply it.

WHEREAS, now is not the time to abandon the reforms and strategies that are starting to show real, measureable positive results and to do so may relegate an entire generation to missing out on opportunities to achieve economic success for themselves and their families.

WHEREAS, Tennessee’s students are not less intelligent or otherwise gifted than those in other states.  Tennessee’s students will rise to the level we expect of them. We must not fail them by expecting less than what they will need in order to be successful in life and in work.

WHEREAS, the Tennessee Business Roundtable, a member of SCORE’s (the State Collaboration on Reforming Education) “Expect More, Achieve More” (EMAM) coalition, endorses and supports EMAM’s “Stay the Course” campaign and would encourage all businesses to join in and support EMAM , local education leaders and teachers  in this important issue.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Tennessee Business Roundtable endorses the principles and goals of the Common Core State Standards as adopted, the corresponding  PARCC  assessment  and strongly recommends that no action be taken to delay, impede or alter the scheduled  implementation of either  these Standards or PARCC  in Tennessee’s public education system.

Dated this the 26th day of February, 2014.

By adoption of the Board of Directors

Gary Shorb, Board President