The Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) showcased its successes at sites across Tennessee on TN LEAP Day, February 29th. Education and employer sites throughout the twelve LEAP site areas held events to demonstrate the skills students are learning through the program and provide students an opportunity to meet with employers.
On TN LEAP Day, which coincided with “Leap Day” on February 29th, the Jackson Regional Partnership hosted an event at Jackson State Community College to highlight the work being done in the local area. The LEAP to Success project, led by the Jackson Regional Partnership with JSCC as the fiscal agent, is a collaboration between employers and educators in the counties of Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Madison and McNairy. The primary objective of the grant is to develop a career pathway to address the workforce needs identified by advanced manufacturing employers in rural west Tennessee.
The Jackson Regional Partnership received $900,000 from the grant last year. To date, over $500,000 of manufacturing training equipment has been purchased for the area Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technologies (TCATs), including welders, robotic trainers, etc. Funding of this equipment will allow TCAT Jackson to increase dual enrollment or dual credits expanding their Certified Production Associate training, with an emphasis on mechatronics.
Several area programs were expanded and enhanced in the areas of welding technology, machine tool technology, tool and die, and others based on the needs of local industry. JSCC will also enhance and expand its associate of applied science in industrial technology program, including developing and articulation pathway to the University of Memphis’ Bachelor of Science in engineering programs.
By the end of the 2015-16 grant, over 250 students will have received enhanced training made possible by this grant. Program projections show this number should not only sustain, but also grow. Relationships have been created between employers and area community colleges or TCATs to identify and address the challenge of job candidate “skills gaps” in the local workforce pool.
Grant coordinator Vicki Bunch reinforces the importance of the grant, “by ensuring that post-secondary educational institutions continue to produce employees with the credentials employers need through alliance and data driven decision-making, Tennessee can meet the needs of current employers and also be more effective in recruiting new industry to the state.”
“LEAP programs have made tremendous strides in so many local communities to connect students with career paths that have major growth potential,” said Russ Deaton, interim executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), which administers LEAP. “TN LEAP Day is a way for employers, institutions, and students to connect with the local communities and inspire even further local involvement and student participation.”
LEAP works with educators and employers to identify and close skills gaps that hinder the economic development of communities throughout the state. In January 2015, THEC awarded $10 million in state-funded LEAP grants to twelve local programs across the state. The community-led partnerships, comprised of industry partners, postsecondary institutions, K12 educators, and workforce development professionals, were tasked with aligning educational training and postsecondary credentials with the needs of regional industry employers.
The 2016 LEAP Report, released by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in January, noted that, as of December 2015, 1,591 high school students across the state have enrolled in courses enhanced or funded by LEAP and 630 college students have enrolled in LEAP-supported programs. In total, 13,363 Tennessee students have engaged in LEAP-funded programming, including work-based learning experiences, career exploration programs, and other industry-focused learning activities.
LEAP was established in 2013 when the Tennessee General Assembly passed Public Chapter 338, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga). The program is administered by THEC and advised by the Governor’s Workforce Sub-Cabinet.