What about a Good Foundation?

by Bill Hicks, Solutions Consultant

As I travel the sixteen counties of my East Tennessee Region, I constantly hear about the struggle to find good employees.  With record low unemployment and a strong economy, many companies I visit would like to grow but are constrained by the available workforce.  As I leave these meetings I continually found myself thinking “What is a good employee?” and “How can we make good employees?”

In case you are alarmed, I am not on the path of “Dolly the sheep” that the UTK College of Veterinary Medicine cloned many years ago!  Rather, I found myself thinking back to a tour of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Morristown that my friend and colleague Chris Edmonds provided for me three years ago.  What I saw there was a great bunch of students learning practical, hands-on skills from amazing instructors with years of experience in their respective fields.  These students really seemed to be well on their way to being those “good employees” that I know my companies are looking for.  So Chris and I started talking about what could we at UT CIS do to help these students be “more better” or more attractive in the marketplace.  We came up with the great idea to bring some of our manufacturing courses to these students.  Unfortunately, we ran into a resource constraint… funding.  Since we both thought we had a good idea, we just put it on simmer for awhile and waited.

In late 2018, I approached Beth Phillips, our Economic Development Program Manager here at UT CIS, with this idea and asked if she had any ideas.  Beth and I discussed how this idea fit perfectly into a grant program that we had from the Appalachian Regional Commission to develop, attract and retain the talented and skilled workforce that manufacturers need to compete in the fast-growing automotive sector.  As Beth noted, “strategically partnering with the TCATs to build a globally competitive workforce and workplace was a perfect way to leverage our collective resources.”

From this funding and an idea that was an “oldie but a goodie” we produced the Foundations of Manufacturing curriculum.  This curriculum was based on the needs we were continually hearing from our industry partners and is made up of five courses:

  • Lean Manufacturing Overview

    During the Lean Introduction, you will learn a systematic approach to reducing costs and lead times by continually reducing non-value-added activities. Lean tools improve the flow of information and materials that will increase your organization’s productivity, competitiveness, and profitability. With a combination of classroom training, real-world examples, and hands-on simulations, you will discover ways to identify and eliminate or reduce the wastes in your process. ​
  • Essential Skills of Communicating

    The bedrock of good communication is openness — the extent to which the organization and its people support the free exchange of open, honest communication. Team members need to learn how to organize their thoughts and speak to each other’s level of understanding.
  • Quality in the Workplace and ISO 9001

    This course is designed to help students understand the importance of quality in today’s manufacturing environment.  The course also explains the expectations and responsibilities of all manufacturing employees for quality.  This course will provide an overview of the 2015 revision of the ISO 9001 standard. Topics covered include risk management, the process approach, development of quality policies and objectives, documented information control, corrective actions and management responsibilities.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

    Critical Thinking is a merge of logical thinking, scientific methods and fact vs. fiction.  Team members need to learn when why and how to apply critical thinking in order to make important decisions and make those decisions more quickly.

    Structured problem-solving methodologies first define and then solve problems.  The most common methodologies of A3 and 8D will be reviewed.  Fundamental root cause analysis techniques of 5-Why and Cause & Effect diagraming will be introduced.
  • OSHA 10-hour General Industry

    This course provides instruction on a variety of general industry safety and health hazards. It's particularly useful for those who are just entering the safety field and would like a better understanding of what is required and where to start. Course subject matter includes an introduction OSHA; OSHAct/General Duty Clause; inspections, citations and penalties; walking and working surfaces; means of egress and fire protection; and electrical. Note: Students who complete this will receive an OSHA 10-Hour General Industry card.

Since May, UT CIS Instructors have completed 152 hours of instruction at the main campus in Morristown and the satellite centers in Surgoinsville and Greeneville.  Participating students were enrolled full-time in CAD and Drafting Technology, Industrial Electricity, Industrial Maintenance, and Machine Tool Technology.  


I tried to convince TCAT President, Dr. Jerry Young to allow us to fly an orange-and-white flag at the days we were training, but he didn’t think that was a good idea.  However, we did find a great compromise (see below).



“Training is all about students acquiring the skills to make them employable.  Each skill set a student acquires puts another tool in their toolbox.  This partnership between TCAT and UT CIS has put a multitude of tools in the toolbox of each participant, increasing their knowledge of today’s manufacturing environment.  We cannot thank UTCIS enough for providing this opportunity to our students.” – Chris Edmonds, Business and Industry Coordinator at TCAT Morristown.

If you would be interested in learning more about this project or seeing how it could be translated to your institution, please contact me.

More importantly, if you’d like to talk to any of these students, please reach out to Chris Edmonds at TCAT Morristown at either (423) 586-5771 or cedmonds@tcatmorristown.edu



Tags Manufacturing