Gov. Bill Haslam Hosts Leaders from Education, Business at UTHSC

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Gov. Bill Haslam Hosts Leaders from Education, Business at UTHSC on Postsecondary Education.

Memphis, Tenn. (August 8, 2012) – For an hour Tuesday afternoon, on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), Gov. Bill Haslam led a candid conversation with some 25 Memphis educators, business leaders and legislators. His goal was to glean their perspective, ideas and comments on how the state can help education and business leaders raise the quality of our postsecondary graduates.

“We want to make sure that we meet the needs of employers right now in terms of quality and quantity of graduates,” Gov. Haslam said. “How do we prepare the workforce that employers need?”

The governor asked participants to identify the things the state is doing right when it comes to postsecondary education and employment, encouraging the group to share specifics and highlight where the state can do more.

Christine Richards, executive vice president, FedEx, suggested the state should be looking into the future. “Evaluate the trends. Look forward and plan ahead. The state needs to be doing more to advance programs that will meet employment needs five and 10 years out. The real trick is in innovation and engineering. That takes collectively planning.”

“We all want to learn to skate to where the puck is going to be,” Gov. Haslam observed. “We’re realizing how difficult it is to do.”

Several executives spotlighted positive collaborations already under way with local educational institutions; internships and cooperative programs that are funneling qualified, well-prepared graduates into the ranks of the gainfully employed. Tommy Carls, vice president of Development for Medtronic, cited the University of Memphis and the UT Health Science Center’s joint biomedical engineering graduates as “students we can use right after graduation.”

Still, other executives noted the absence of basic math skills, problem solving, and critical thinking, as well as a frequent inability to communicate clearly and work with others.

“Kids can use computers but sometimes they can’t speak English well or use proper grammar. Some of these kids come out of college and they can’t write a sentence. That is a tragedy,” said Mary Anna Quinn, senior vice president, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “We struggle with that every day.” Former school teacher, Representative Barbara Ward Cooper stressed that if schools lived up to the existing educational standards, such tragic situations would not exist.

When the governor asked what educational employers are looking for that they can’t find in the state, UTHSC Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD, explained, “We often need highly skilled, technical employees, people who can manage staff, budgets and sometimes sophisticated equipment. If a researcher or department chair can’t find what we need in Tennessee, they are going to go elsewhere to find the exact right person with those skill sets.”

“We as a state haven’t done a good job in postsecondary education when it comes to assessing where your demand is, where the jobs are that you’re not filling,” the Governor observed. “Through the series of meetings that we’re holding across the state, we’re hearing where the demand is in postsecondary education. Our role is to fund it appropriately and determine where the money goes.”

Among the others who attended the meeting were: John Aitken, superintendent of Shelby County Schools; Ken Badaracco, general manager, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products; Nate Essex, PhD, president of Southwest Tennessee Community Coillege; State Senator Brian Kelsey; State Senator Mark Norris; Billy Orgel, Unified School Board chairman; Deano Orr, executive director, International Paper Foundation; Jack Truong, PhD, president, Electrolux; Mike Womack, senior vice president of Human Resources, AutoZone. Representatives from Tennessee Technology Center’s Memphis, Covington and Ripley campuses, from Unilever, and from the faculties of the University of Memphis and UTHSC also participated.

As the flagship statewide academic health system, the mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service. In 2011, UT Health Science Center celebrated its centennial: 100 years advancing the future of health care. Offering a broad range of postgraduate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Allied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The UTHSC campus in Knoxville includes a College of Medicine, College of Pharmacy, and an Allied Health Sciences unit. In addition, the UTHSC Chattanooga campus includes a College of Medicine and an Allied Health Sciences unit. Since its founding in 1911, UTHSC has educated and trained more than 53,000 health care professionals on campuses and in health care facilities across the state. For more information, visit www.uthsc.edu.

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