Corporate Training White Paper

Aligning a Career Pathway in Advanced Manufacturing

As competition and demands grow, companies are increasingly looking for ways to build skilled workforces ready for the demands of a rigorous workplace from day one. A long history of offering tailored technical education allows community colleges to fill that gap, providing a nimble response and high-quality training to fill company demand and creating an education pathway that reaches a broad base of trainees, including students in high school, trade school, and adult employees who need to build advanced skillsets.

Author: Teri Brahms, Executive Director, Economic & Workforce Development at Pellissippi State Community College

Pellissippi State is part of a NSF-funded project, AMTEC National Center, which identified six major characteristics for successful creation of career pathways:  

  1. Employer involvement in all phases of the program
  2. Institutional and instructional transformation links to educational and career competencies and training
  3. Wrap around support services
  4. Partnerships
  5. Continuous improvement
  6. Sustainability

Manufacturers drawn to the East Tennessee region are looking for immediate support from a skilled workforce or for backing from area educational institutions that can provide improved solutions to hiring practices. Providing degree-seeking students and current manufacturing employees with technology they will use in the workplace is an institutional priority for Pellissippi State Community College. Because of this commitment, area manufacturers have unique access to state-of-the-art manufacturing labs to provide hands-on training to employees. In return, students at multiple campuses have unique access to manufacturing processes and equipment. The labs are shared resources, creating opportunities for high school students who use the facilities as part of daily coursework through STEM programs as well as classroom training beyond the desktop for college students – all in addition to usage from manufacturing facilities in the area.  By also providing alternative delivery methods of curriculum developed through the AMTEC partnership, students have the flexibility needed to gain skills and advance in the labor market. 

Through collaboration with local secondary school systems and with support from regional industry, Pellissippi State built two large, hands-on laboratory facilities that introduce students to a broad range of manufacturing opportunities.  Pellissippi State’s state-of-the-art Manufacturing Tech Lab at one campus led to an uptick in apprenticeship training through the college’s non-credit division and Engineering Technology degree programs. Education and career competencies and training are closely linked in this environment.  With continued industry involvement, Pellissippi State opened a new MegaLab in September, 2015, at another campus.  These facilities provide the infrastructure and support for continued apprenticeship programs in addition to creating space to train advanced skillsets like welding, automated industrial systems, and industrial maintenance. The Megalab serves as a focal point for those pursuing certificates, degrees or other credentials in a variety of fields, while national associations and corporations such as the American Welding Society, FANUC Robotics and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills offer credentials to students who learn in the lab. The project is an example of what can happen when educational institutions work closely with industry partners. 

Combining employer advisory committees (those of the college with those of local high schools) allow employers to have continued input into curriculum and program development while minimizing the time demands required to participate with each institution individually.  One example of continuous improvement is the College’s relationship with a major regional employer, DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee. The two have collaborated since 1992 to ensure that DENSO can depend on the college to provide potential employees that are qualified to help DENSO produce quality products. The partnership has included training programs for DENSO employees and donations from DENSO and the DENSO North America Foundation.  Recently, a new program, Automated Industrial Systems, was created to meet the need for students prepared for a future in modern manufacturing control systems with courses related to the design, application, and maintenance of industrial process controls, robotics, and automated manufacturing systems.

Partnerships including businesses, post-secondary education, adult education and secondary education provide opportunities to collaborate across all levels, building economic stability across the region.  Pellissippi State’s MegaLab is also used to support training for a new Career Magnet Academy (a magnet high school of the Knox County School System).  Using dual credit as well as dual enrollment opportunities allow high school students to graduate high school with not only a diploma but also an associate degree or other certifications (depending upon how many classes they wish to take while in high school). Manufacturers know they have a skilled workforce trained to industry standards, and students know they will have steady jobs with good wages and benefits. Tennessee’s AMTEC and “Drive to 55” programs are examples of expanding education beyond traditional degree programs to directly impact the labor market,  and apprenticeship programs developed specifically for companies like Cherokee Millwright, Massey Electric, AESSEAL and B&W Y-12, create opportunities to develop unique training for a highly prepared workforce. Student populations from both institutions have access to career exploration and guidance, assessments, academic counseling, work-based learning opportunities (i.e., internships, co-ops, job shadowing and projects), financial assistance and other support services to ensure success. 


Collaboration with key manufacturing companies allows Pellissippi State to address obstacles manufacturers face when building a highly-skilled workforce as well as challenges individuals may face when building a career in advanced manufacturing. Employers explore pain points with educators to create programs designed to build career competencies; these collaborations ensure employer involvement in all program phases. Business is demanding skilled workers who can think and problem-solve on the job; modern manufacturing increasingly operates with generalists rather than specialists. Higher education can serve to bridge and fill learning gaps, connecting students of all ages with the hands-on manufacturing skills and the higher level thinking they’ll need to seamlessly transition into a demanding industry. 

 “AMTEC: A National Career Pathway Model that Works.” Connections: The newsletter of the National Career Pathways Network, Vol. 23, No. 7, accessed 2/1/15,

 Gardner Carrick and Anne Kim, “A Shortage of Skilled Workers Threatens Manufacturing’s Rebound,” GE Reports, accessed 2/2/15,

 “A Sharper Focus on Technical Workers: How to Educate and Train for the Global Economy.”  National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Report, accessed 2/3/15,

Discover more about the author,