Developing a World-Class Workforce in East Tennessee

A prosperous, thriving community depends on the availability of a skilled workforce. The Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley strives to meet the short- and long-term labor needs of the region’s existing and future industries through dynamic initiatives designed to connect talent, education and opportunity.

Each summer, the Knoxville Chamber supports this mission by placing Knox County educators in area businesses to link what they teach in the classroom to real-world applications for their students.

Pathways Tennessee Externships

Four teams of Knox County educators took part in two-day externships at manufacturing and information technology companies – where demand for qualified workers is high – as part of the Pathways Tennessee regional coalition.

The teams included an administrator, guidance counselor, general education teacher and career and technical education (CTE) teacher from South-Doyle, Farragut, and Central High Schools, as well as Byington-Solway Career and Technical Education Center. They spent time at TomCat USA, a manufacturer of outdoor portable roof systems for the event and entertainment industries; Lifetime Products, a manufacturer of molded plastic outdoor products from kayaks to picnic tables; Designsensory, a branding, advertising and digital agency; and PerfectServe, a developer of communications software for the healthcare industry.

On June 8, the teams gathered at Alcoa High School to report on their experiences and develop lesson plans focused on skills students will need in the workplace.

The externships were the culmination of work by Chambers and six school systems in Knox, Anderson and Blount counties to encourage students and educators to explore careers in advanced manufacturing and IT, where job openings currently exist and are expected to continue to grow.

Other activities planned by the Pathways team include partnering with Junior Achievement of East Tennessee for a career exploration curriculum and site visits for 1,100 middle school students at local employers. Another 720 middle school students got a first-hand look at advanced manufacturing equipment at Pellissippi State’s Blount County campus and Visionary Solutions’ mobile classroom.

Both manufacturing and IT are very different industries from what they were just 10 years ago, and it’s hoped these experiences will help educators guide more students to these fast-growing careers.

Educators in the Workplace

In partnership with Knox County Schools, more than 200 educators were placed in 14 area businesses for the Chamber’s 10th annual Educators in the Workplace program on June 12.

Members of various departments within the companies provided educators information about their day-to-day business operations, workplace culture and specifics on ways to connect what students learn in the classroom with what is required in the workplace. The educators also took part in facility tours and question-and-answer sessions with company representatives, all while having the potential to earn in-service credit.

All participating educators and companies were invited to a luncheon at Bearden Middle School, sponsored by Shoffner Kalthoff MES, Inc. (SKMES), where they shared their experiences and provided feedback on the program.

The intent of Educators in the Workplace is to help educators find ways to link what they teach in the classroom to real-world applications, so they can keep their students engaged and excited about what they are learning and better prepare them for future jobs.


Boy Scouts of America – Great Smoky Mountain Council

Cirrus Insight

Flowers Baking, Co.

Gerdau Long Steel North America


Jewelry Television

Knoxville Area Transit

Knoxville Utilities Board

McGhee Tyson Airport

Shoffner Kalthoff MES, Inc. (SKMES)

Sword & Shield Enterprise Security, Inc.

Threds, Inc.


Zoo Knoxville

Career & Technical Education Externships

To close out the Chamber’s summer workforce development programs, Knox County teachers will be paired with local businesses relative to their fields of instruction for Career and Technical Education (CTE) externships the week of July 16-20.

Throughout the week, the educators will take part in a two-day job shadow and an additional day of planning for the classroom. While on the job, teachers will have the opportunity to accompany an employee, assist with tasks and learn more about present demands, challenges and opportunities in their respective industries.

The educators will convene on the final day to incorporate their industry experience into classroom practices by creating new lesson plans and activities.

CTE provides students of all ages with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers and to become lifelong learners. It is committed to providing both students and teachers with quality, hands-on experiences in order to bring real-life expectations and inspirations to the classroom.


Denark Construction

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital

House of Thaller

Jewelry Television

Johnson & Galyon

Knoxville Chamber

McGaha Electric

Messer Construction

Morris Creative Group

Movement Mortgage

Patricia Nash Designs

UT Early Learning Center

Walker Collision Repair


To join the conversation about these programs and other workforce development initiatives, use #WorkReadyKnox on social media. Contact Alex Kleto, existing industries manager at the Knoxville Chamber, to get involved in next summer’s programs.