Nathan Handley, The Jackson Sun
Gov. Bill Haslam spoke at the Jackson Chamber on Thursday to promote the Tennessee Reconnect program.
He said Tennessee Promise — which will provide a free community college education to graduating high school seniors beginning this year — is a great first step in the Drive to 55 program. Drive to 55 seeks to bring the number of Tennessee adults with some kind of post-secondary training to 55 percent. But it would take a while to reach that goal working only with traditional college freshman, Haslam said.
“If we’re going to get to 55 percent, we have to do something to enable all those adults out there who would like to have education, but they don’t know how to do it,” Haslam said.
He said Tennessee Reconnect is the program to do that. With the program, adults in Tennessee can get certificates from Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology for free. He said this is a natural extension of Tennessee Promise.
“Free gets people’s attention,” Haslam said. “… Let’s do the same thing for adults and provide them a last-dollar scholarship to go back to a TCAT and get that training they need.”
Haslam said people often respond to the Drive to 55 program by saying everyone does not need to go to college to get a job. He said that is true, but education is important.
“Without some sort of post-secondary training, those jobs that are available are not real career jobs, that’s just the reality,” Haslam said.
He said the state wants to provide opportunities for citizens to get training and for companies to connect with the workers they need.
“There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in Tennessee that are going unfilled because they’re available, but we don’t have the right people trained for them,” Haslam said.
Kyle Spurgeon, president of the Jackson Chamber, said TCAT Jackson will focus on training Tennessee Reconnect participants in the tool and die area. He said area plant managers say they need more people trained in tool and die to continue growth.
Tool and die is part of an industry that makes tools for manufacturing processes.
While participants will have many choices in areas of training, Spurgeon said the tool and die area will be emphasized because those jobs are known to be available.
Haslam commended Jackson leaders for focusing on advanced manufacturing where they know people can get employment. He said it is a smart, practical approach to the program.
Haslam said TCATs are hidden gems in the state. He said they graduate 80 percent of their students, and 85 percent get employment.
“We’re taking about a program that works filling jobs where we have demand,” Haslam said. “What we have to do is make sure we attract people in there.
Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise and Drive to 55, said Tennessee Reconnect is simply the next step in Drive to 55 and is available for independent students, those who are not of the traditional age and status to enter post-secondary training.
“These are typically people over the age of 24,” Krause said. “They can be younger if they have children or something, but they have to not be a dependent.”
Haslam said the program offers last-dollar scholarships, so it will not cost the state much. He said the money for the program has already been set aside as part of Tennessee Promise legislation.
Adults are encouraged to sign up before May 15 for the Tennessee Reconnect program, and they can do so at www.TNReconnect.gov. Applicants will then be guided through the admission and financial aid process by their local TCAT.
Reach Nathan Handley at (731) 425-9641. Follow him on Twitter @NathanHandley.
What to know
•Adults are encouraged to sign up before May 15 for the Tennessee Reconnect program, and they can do so at www.TNReconnect.gov.
•Applicants will then be guided through the admission and financial aid process by their local Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.