Career training programs in Blount County are heating up, thanks to nearly $1.9 million in state grants announced Thursday, Nov. 7.

Alcoa City Schools and Pellissippi State Community College’s Blount County campus are among 28 programs splitting $25 million under the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education program.

An $892,745 grant to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Knoxville will help set up a Trane Training Lab at Alcoa High School, creating the only training program in Blount County for heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians and mechanics.

Pellissippi State is receiving two grants, $998,416 for its GIVE Blount County Careers Collaborative, with another $999,874 for a sister program in Knox County.

“These funds directly support our workforce development efforts in distressed and at-risk counties and are a key component of our strategy to prioritize rural Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement announcing the grants.

HVAC at Alcoa, TCAT

Patty Thomas, director of career and technical education programs at Alcoa City Schools worked on the TCAT grant proposal for the HVAC program.

She credited ACS Director Brian Bell with bringing to her the idea of offering the career pathway at Alcoa, based on the district’s own experience in funding HVAC work on campus. East Tennessee HVAC also had reached out to the district inquiring about providing work-based learning opportunities to students.

The grant application notes not only the high demand for HVAC workers but also the average annual pay of more than $60,000.

The new HVAC training equipment is expected to be installed at AHS in time for the 2020-21 school year.

Students will be able to graduate with multiple industry certification and dual enrollment college credits, transitioning not only to TCAT but also programs at Pellissippi State and other regional colleges to earn associate or bachelor’s degrees in fields such as construction management.

ACS receives only about $20,000 annually in federal Perkins funding for CTE programs, which Thomas explained isn’t enough for the equipment to start a new program along with maintaining existing programs.

The state GIVE grant will provide funding for Trane training equipment not only at AHS but also TCAT’s main campus in Knoxville and its Strawberry Plains campus.

If there’s enough community interest, Thomas said, the high school also could offer evening training programs for adults.

The grant will provide funding for a part-time instructor and a part-time college and career coach, who also may monitor work-based learning, Thomas explained.

Manufacturing, construction

Pellissippi State’s grant activities will focus on different industries based on county workforce demands.

The Blount County Careers Collaborative (BC3) will center on advanced manufacturing and civil engineering and construction, while the Knox County Careers Collaborative (KC3) will center on information technology fields, including cybersecurity, networking and systems administration, explained Aneisa Rolen, executive director of the Pellissippi State Community College Foundation.

Pellissippi State plans to hire a work-based learning director and career navigator to work with the local public school systems, employers and other partners.

One focus will be starting career exploration and awareness activities in the sixth grade. “We recognize that we need to start much earlier,” Rolen said.

Plus the initiatives will include creating clear career pathways. While many people are familiar with pathways in fields such as nursing — licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, Bachelor of Science in nursing — those aren’t as familiar in some hard to fill fields such as advanced manufacturing, she noted.

Stackable credentials allow workers to build their careers.

Pellissippi’s grant also will cover some equipment purchases to help train workers in the area’s high-demand fields.

State Sen. Art Swann, R-Maryville, issued a statement thanking the governor “for his dedication to filling the needs of vocational education.”

“These funds will serve a great educational and economic need in Blount and surrounding counties,” Swann’s statement said.

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Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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