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Knoxville: Building a path between “high school” and “hired”

The Tennessee College of Applied Technology eliminates barriers to jobs through career-aligned courses, credentials, and connections.

The Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville eliminates barriers to employment by providing every learner with access: to courses informed by K-12 educators and local employers; to credentials desired by industry partners; and to connections with like-minded learners and prospective employers.

Learning Forerunner


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Learning Forerunners Across America

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June 2020

About the innovation

How can learners chart clear paths between school and work?


Many youth in Knoxville leave high school without clear postsecondary plans, leading some to fall through the cracks. This is the gap that the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) works to bridge for the Knoxville region.

TCAT Knoxville takes a holistic view of workforce development. We see ourselves as a conduit for individuals to reach their educational, career, and life goals. We do this by developing long-term partnerships with local, regional, and national stakeholders so that K-12 and college students can connect with employers and gain insights into high-demand occupations. As students explore opportunities and possibilities, TCAT guides them to relevant training that helps them explore theirown potentialand find employment in their desired fields.

Tennessee College of Applied Technology

The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology serve as the premier suppliers of workforce development throughout the state of Tennessee. With 27 campuses across the state and eight locations in East Tennessee, the institution serves as a critical link between the Knoxville region’s K-12 schools and its workforce. By providing access to region-specific skills, credentials, and connections, TCAT removes barriers to employment for young people and contributes to the economic well-being of students, their families, and communities alike.

Tennessee College of Applied Technology's Commitment

TCAT Knoxville is committed to meeting every student where they are and aligning students' learning with where they want to go. The institution partners with both K-12 teachers and local employers to help students build clear, scaffolded paths from school to the workforce. And by partnering with 25 secondary schools throughout the region to offer dual enrollment, TCAT ensures that students seeking employment can begin acquiring credits, work skills, and experience as early as possible. As they move through TCAT’s programs, the institution’s competency-based approach to learning lets students work at the pace that most suits them, with students “leveling up” as they meet specified competencies, increasing the likelihood that they’ll excel in their future positions.

"Education and the world of work are changing now! Institutions that are focused on moving students from the classroom and lab to the work can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of tomorrow." – President, Dr. Kelli Chaney

Examples and highlights:

At its core, TCAT Knoxville provides its students with access: Access to courses informed by K-12 educators and local employers; to credentials desired by industry partners; and to connections with like-minded learners and prospective employers.

TCAT Knoxville offers courses informed by advisory committees, which include K-12 teachers with a grasp of where students are and employers who understand where students need to be. This ensures that courses are both relevant to students and aligned to the needs of the Knoxville region’s workforce. Every year, the advisory committees review the curriculum for each program, updating it to keep up with students’ interests and the changing demands of the region’s employment landscape.

TCAT Knoxville offers credentials backed by national organizations such as the National Coalition of Certification Centers, ensuring that the students who earn them can land well-paying jobs wherever they happen to be. TCAT offers certifications for several steady, in-demand industries such as transportation, energy, and manufacturing, maximizing students’ opportunities and providing them with relevant, transferable skills.

Just as importantly, TCAT Knoxville offers connections to employers and like-minded learners at both the local and national levels. All TCAT students, for example, are given memberships to SkillsUSA, a partnership of more than 430,000 students, teachers, and industry leaders who connect through events, competitions, and more. Every year, TCAT Knoxville brings more than 100 high school student members to campus for SkillsUSA’s regional work skills competition. TCAT’s instructors and staff serve as judges and contest coordinators, helping high school students understand the many potential paths to the workforce. These partnerships have been extraordinarily successful: TCAT Knoxville’s SkillsUSA chapter has won 114 gold, 66 silver, and 71 bronze medals at its annual state conference since 2007. In the same time frame, TCAT Knoxcille's chapter has won 30 gold, 10 silver, and 7 bronze medals at the national competition.

The result of all this is high-quality career opportunities for students. Every year during SkillsUSA competitions, for example, at least one student is offered employment on the spot. And for almost everyone else, job opportunities come soon afterward: TCAT Knoxville boasts a 93 percent placement rate after graduation.

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