As everyone should know by now, Ford’s BlueOval City is coming to Haywood County and will be located just 14 miles away from Covington. Needless to stay, the $5.6 billion facility that will manufacture all-electric trucks and batteries is going to have a huge impact on Tipton County. Ford executives say once it’s complete in three years about 27,000 jobs will be created with a payroll of $1.8 billion. How are we getting our students ready to take advantage of that? Marcus Heaston, the workforce development coordinator and BlueOval City Liason for Tipton County Schools, seemed the like the perfect person to answer that question. We recently had a talk with him and he explained the plan in great detail.
Q: Is your position a new one that was created because of Ford or has it been around for a while?
A: This position has been in consideration for a few years. However, with the announcement of the Ford BlueOval investment, coupled with the staggering need to replenish a depleted workforce, the time is now to strategically implement this work. Our superintendent, Dr. John Combs, began planning a workforce development position a couple of years ago as part of his vision to provide our students with opportunities that would ensure college and career readiness. With the announcement of Ford’s Blue Oval City investment, as well as the need to strengthen our workforce through educational training, whether community college, a four-year institution, or trade school, our school board agreed that the position was needed to help facilitate this work.
Q: How long have you been in this position?
A: Actually only this new position for two weeks. However, a majority of my career, that has spanned 22 years now, has involved creating and marketing pathways for students to graduate with college and career-ready work skills.
Q: Tell me a little about your education resume.
A: This is my 22nd year in public education with 19 of those being in an educational leadership capacity. I just completed my 15th year with TCS, however I have served in multiple educational leadership capacities in the North Texas/Dallas-Ft. Worth area, as well as Middle Tennessee.
Q: Give me your job description.
A: My role with TCS is as workforce development coordinator and liaison for BlueOval City. In this capacity, I will partner with our TCS middle and high schools as well as TCAT, DSCC, Tennessee Board of Regents Colleges & Universities (UT-Martin, U of Memphis, UT-Knoxville, TSU, etc.), local municipality leadership designees, our local chamber of commerce and the TN Department of Labor so that TCS can design, provide and communicate career pathways for our schools, students, parents, community and stakeholders. I will also manage our new College and Career Readiness dashboard, SchooLinks.
Q; Are there plans to have classes in Tipton County Schools that are geared specifically to working at the Ford Megasite? If so, what are those classes and when are they coming? Who will teach those classes?
A: Actually, an advantage that TCS has is that we already have robust course offerings through our partnerships with TCAT- Covington and the Jimmy Naifeh DSCC Campus. On a recent visit to Covington by Gov. Bill Lee, he highlighted the work that TCS and TCAT have done in CTE (career technical education). So it’s just a matter of refining and communicating these offerings to our students, parents, community and stakeholders with enhanced marketing and urgency. Each TCS high school offers what we refer to as EPSOs (early post-secondary opportunities). EPSOs include dual enrollment (DE) courses where high school students will receive college credits coupled with high school credits, state dual credit courses, AP (Advanced Placement) classes, which offers an opportunity for college credits, and industry certifications through TCAT-Covington (welding, HVAC, digital agronomy, industrial maintenance, etc.)
Q: How do you think the presence of the Ford plant will change the way local educators develop curriculum? Will it change it all?
A: TCS historically has provided one of the best public school curriculums in Tennessee. This investment has opened up the opportunity for TCS to partner with Ford NGL (New Generation Learning), which provides access to resources and supports that will assist us in providing an enhanced offering of STEM-based curriculum, robotics and technology that will provide our students the opportunity to compete in this new innovative workforce.
Q: Talk a little about how the Ford plant gives more opportunities to Tipton County students who will be in the workforce in the coming years.
A: As I shared earlier, our TCS senior leadership team has had the opportunity to have conversations with Ford NGL, which has partnered with ESG & TNSCORE to secure grant-funded opportunities that will provide TCS to access to the latest resources on the market. One of the opportunities that I have been working on in recent months is a data dashboard called SchooLinks. SchooLinks will provide an opportunity for TCS to revolutionize our delivery of Career and College supports to our students.
Q: Are you in contact with Ford people? If so, what’s their message to you as it pertains to getting students ready to work there? Do you know if most of the jobs there will require education beyond high school?
A: Yes, there have been conversations with Ford NGL and Ford Leadership in recent months. The biggest point of emphasis from NGL and the Ford Executives have been two-fold. 1.) TCS has to up the ante with our STEM and robotics offerings. 2.) The jobs offered at BlueOval, as well as many modern manufacturing, are going to require soft skills and industry certifications offered through our EPSOs and TCAT. The new innovative industry has emphasized there is more value in improving work skill sets over experience. Tipton County is fortunate that our students, as well as the adult community overall, can access and improve these 21st-century work skills through our enhanced TCS CTE classes, EPSOs, TCAT and DSCC.
Q: Have the Ford people given you an indication of salary projections?
A: Nothing specific. However, my experiences in DFW/North Texas and Middle Tennessee has taught me that the more skills, certifications or degrees that a student or community workforce has, the higher salary those positions will demand. A by-product of this will be a higher earning tax base for Tipton County. This hopefully will result in increased infrastructure support, entertainment and retail offerings.
Q: Anything else to add that we haven’t covered?
A: I’m extremely humbled by the opportunity to serve in this capacity in the community that I love. Being able to be a part of similar workforce development initiatives in North Texas and Middle Tennessee, I know firsthand what this investment will mean for Tipton County in the near future. It’s critical that parents are having candid and accountable talks with their children about the importance of enrolling and participating in the new curriculum offerings that TCS, TCAT and DSCC are providing. It is equally critical that our adult population is researching the certifications provided through TCAT and other local higher institutions of learning to upgrade their certifications and 21st-century work skills that are required for these new career opportunities. In the end, I just want our community to be equipped, certified, motivated and prepared for the #EndlessPossiblities that are upon us. I know the best is yet to come.