Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland traveled across a wet city on Sunday, visiting several area churches to spread the good news about the availability of educational and employment opportunities.
Christened “Opportunity Sunday,” the governor was with Strickland to remind church members of the Tennessee Promise (tnpromise.gov) program which allows anyone in the state with a high school diploma or a GED, but no college degree, to attend two years of community college or a technical school for free.
“So, tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your kids, tell your parents, whoever it is; let them know that opportunities exist right here in Memphis,” Haslam said at Greenwood C.M.E. Church in Orange Mound, the first stop on the tour. “We need more workers and this is an opportunity to make that happen.”
There are about 15,000 open jobs in Memphis, Strickland said.
Within that number, about 9,000 pay a living wage, which in Memphis is $12.50 an hour. And from those 9,000 jobs, about 6,000 pay over $15 an hour, he said.
And if a person isn’t qualified now for the job, there are free educational programs available through Tennessee Promise.
As an example, a person can earn a certificate in aircraft mechanics in 18 months at one of the area tech schools.
“We have a small company in Memphis called FedEx. You may have heard of them,” Strickland said at Greenwood. “They hire airplane mechanics. The starting salary is $56,000 a year. The second year you’re making $72,000 a year. These opportunities are out there. We just want to spread the news.”
So many people don’t know what’s out there for them, he said.
“We really appreciate the governor being here because it puts more of a spotlight on it,” Strickland said.
“Everybody, no matter what your politics are, you should recognize in our country we have a growing issue around income inequality. We just do. I don’t care what your politics are,” Haslam said before services at Greenwood began. “What we want to do is address that in Tennessee by giving more people opportunities up front with the mayor highlighting the open opportunities job-wise and then all of us in Tennessee being able to provide that free college education.”
Tennessee Promise launched in 2015 and is open to anyone regardless of age, even individuals who have criminal records, Haslam said.
However, if a record needs to be expunged, the city has $70,000 raised entirely through donations to cover that cost, Strickland said. The amount was lowered by the Tennessee Legislature from around $400 to about $180.
About six weeks ago the state launched Tennessee Reconnect (tnreconnect.gov), which helps adults interested in higher education or a work certification
So far, there are about 12,000 applicants, Haslam said.
“The good news is Shelby County actually has more applicants for the program than any other county, with almost 2,000,” he said.
High school students learn about the opportunities provided by the state at school, but a mom with two kids may not know, Haslam said.
Southwest Tennessee Community College has space for about 12,000 students, but has an enrollment of about 8,000 or 9,000, Strickland said.
Those are a lot of openings that can be filled, he said.
Strickland also discussed Memphis: Opportunity City (opportunitymemphis.com), a resource that connects citizens with a wealth of available city services like help in accessing Tennessee Promise, getting a criminal record expunged, earning a high school diploma or other social services.
It’s information his members need, said Greenwood Pastor Bethel Harris
“They need to hear about it, and they’ll make an intelligent decision based on the information they get,” Harris said.
After Greenwood, the Opportunity Sunday caravan was scheduled to hit St. Paul Baptist Church on Holmes Road and Mt. Vernon Baptist Church Westwood.