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Employer Engagement Key Focus of Top States’ Career Readiness Strategies

Employer engagement and work-based learning were the top concerns among education and business leaders from ten states, including Tennessee, who met Nov 1-3 to discuss their “Phase II” career readiness efforts now being funded by $2 million dollar grants from JPMorgan Chase.

TBR Policy Director Cassie Lynn Foote joined Tennessee’s New Skills for Youth (NSFY) grant team at the Career Readiness Fall Convening in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Tennessee education leaders and allies gathered with teams from nine other states also receiving $2 million second-level NSFY grant awards. Participating state teams traded successful strategies and best practices they’re putting into motion with the additional grant funds, aiming to help all students graduate high school prepared for college, careers, and life.

Actively and appropriately engaging the business community is a task with which most states seem to be struggling in preparing students for careers, reports Cassie. “Because employer engagement is not only a part of its action plan, but also a requirement of the grant it received in January of this year, Tennessee is now sharply focused on involving employers in regional industry councils, creating strong relationships between employers and education systems, and connecting more employers to WBL opportunities across the state,” says Cassie.

In 2016, Tennessee was one of 24 states and the District of Columbia to receive a $100,000 Phase I NSFY planning grant. Tennessee was able to use those grant funds to complete Pathways TN asset mapping, allowing for statewide implementation of its career pathway initiative. It also engaged an external firm to identify the strengths and opportunities in Tennessee’s career pathway system. Using these findings, our state developed a career readiness action plan based on six principles:

  1. Employer Engagement: Employers must be active partners in career pathways.

  2. Equitable Access: All students must be able to access high-quality career pathways.  

  3. Eliminate Barriers: Agency requirements should not create barriers for students.

  4. Effective Use of Data: Timely and accurate data drive strategic planning and decision making.

  5. K-16 Plan: All students will have a K-16 plan that culminates in a credential valued by employers.

  6. Shared Strategies: Agencies will co-create career pathways priorities that guide strategic plans and funding opportunities.

Thanks in part to support from TBR, Tennessee was one of only 10 states that each received a $2 million NSFY Phase II grant in January of 2017. Among the winning states, there is rising interest in creating apprenticeships for high school students as a strategy to bridge the skills gap faced by many employers. “Leading states now believe that the mix of on-the-job training and academic and technical instruction that students get from apprenticeships has great potential as a means to help employers address the skills gap created by an aging workforce and constantly evolving technology and industry practices, Cassie reports. “Apprenticeships also provide the structure needed for small-to-medium-sized companies to create collaborative programs, and to more effectively and efficiently participate in work-based learning,” she adds.

The Roundtable serves as the business representative on Tennessee’s grant team. TBR can help your company get involved in a TN Pathways regional industry council or work-based learning initiative.  To get started, contact Cassie at (615) 255-5877 or



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