Chris Gregory/Hartsville Vidette TCAT Hartsville President Mae Wright (at right) and instructor Clyde Mansfield (at left) show Gov. Bill Lee around the facility’s welding program during the governor’s visit on Oct. 30. Tennessee College of Applied Technology is receiving $994,995 in grant funding under Lee’s initiative to promote vocational education across the state.

Chris Gregory/Hartsville Vidette

TCAT Hartsville President Mae Wright (at right) and instructor Clyde Mansfield (at left) show Gov. Bill Lee around the facility’s welding program during the governor’s visit on Oct. 30. Tennessee College of Applied Technology is receiving $994,995 in grant funding under Lee’s initiative to promote vocational education across the state.

Macon County is one of the beneficiaries of a $1-million grant award for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT), which Gov. Bill Lee recently announced.

The funds come through the Governor's Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) program to the Tri-County region, which encompasses Macon, Smith, Trousdale and a portion of Wilson counties.

The GIVE grant prioritizes learning opportunities in rural counties and enhances career and technical education statewide.

"We are proud to work with the General Assembly to pass the GIVE initiative and expand career and technical education for Tennessee students," said Lee. "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."

Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved $25 million in the governor's budget to incentivize collaboration at the local level among stakeholders, such as higher-education institutions, K-12 schools and economic development partners.

The award process began in June when the Tennessee Higher Education Commission issued a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP). Each proposal was required to show local data that clearly identified both workforce needs and a sustainable plan utilizing equipment, work-based learning experiences, or recognized industry certifications to increase the state's competitiveness and post-secondary attainment goals.

"GIVE Award funding will allow TCAT Hartsville to expand its advanced manufacturing training capacity in its service area, including high-school students from Trousdale, Jackson, Macon, Smith and Wilson counties," said Jonathan Smallwood, vice president of TCAT Hartsville. "TCAT Hartsville's proposal focuses on closing the gap for high-schools students continuing on to college. This program will add dual-enrollment capacity for high-school students in advanced manufacturing, industrial maintenance, Mechatronics, machine tool technology and welding technology.

"GIVE funding provides the College approximately $800,000 to invest in additional instructional equipment, along with $200,000 to fund Work Based Learning opportunities, certificates of achievement and capstone opportunities for high-school students with participating industry partners across our service area."

The governor toured TCAT Hartsville on Oct. 30, including its industrial maintenance/Mechatronics, machine tool technology and welding technology training programs. In each class, he watched demonstrations of the equipment, machinery and instruction and met with students and faculty to thank them for their study and work.

The grant specifically awards $170,000 to the Tennessee Central Cooperative Manufacturing WBL Program. That program will provide new equipment (Mechatronics, advanced Programmable Logic Controllers training system, vertical mills, engine lathes, and welding machines) for Tennessee College of Applied Technology's Tri-County Extension Campus in Red Boiling Springs.

"They'll receive technical skill development on the new equipment that's going to the Tri-County Extension campus," Tennessee Central Economic Authority Project Manager Dan Tidcomb said. "They will receive additional development by working more closely with industry throughout the county, because we have industry participating and we have the educators of Macon County participating."

It will also fund a work-based learning program for Macon County's students, which will connect them to local industries, enhance the Work Ethic Distinction program, and build essential skills employers now seek.

"Winning this grant was a significant accomplishment, and it will help train high-school students who want to start a career and earn a decent salary, immediately after high school," Tidcomb said. "An additional debt of gratitude goes to the Greater Nashville Regional Council, Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Hartsville, Fleetwood Homes, and Macon County's assertive career and technical educators for including Macon County in the application and serving it with the program in the years to come."

That work-based learning program enhances the students' ability to be ready for the workforce upon graduation.

"What they will develop is soft skills," Tidcomb said. "They will develop what employers expect from them -- being reliable, punctual, (well) dressed and (having capable) communication skills.

"They will have opportunities to tour facilities and connect with different industries and will be rewarded for doing so."

The upgraded equipment will allow the students to become accustomed to present-day equipment used by businesses.

"To get people trained on equipment that's being used in today's current industry, this is exceptionally beneficial," Tidcomb said. "The grant is an initiative from the governor, who understands that rural communities are falling behind in terms of having a skilled work force. It's supplying these counties to be more competitive to attract more business and be able to have more jobs available to these communities."

Contributing: Chris Gregory