Kelly North’s career path is a “classic example of workforce development at its core.”
So, it makes sense that’s her primary focus as director of existing business development for Shelbyville-Bedford Partnership.
North spent the first half of her career running operations and logistics for a corporate events management company in Brentwood.
When she wanted to shift gears and move into the non-profit sector, she went back to school. North received her bachelor’s in entrepreneurship and her master’s in social innovation and nonprofit management from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
In need of an internship, North connected with Allen Pitner, previous Chief Executive Officer of the Shelbyville-Bedford County Chamber of Commerce. Working there for three months, she wrote the framework for the “Partners in Education” program, which helped connect industry with schools by focusing on academic achievements, work-based learning, and attendance.
North was then offered a part-time position with the Chamber, where her interest in workforce development peaked during the five years she worked there.
When she found the desire to transition yet again, a position with the Shelbyville-Bedford Partnership opened with the focus on promoting workforce development in Bedford County.
As a nonprofit organization, the Partnership was established about six months ago as an opportunity to focus on “economic development for the betterment of citizens,” according to North.
Now in her third month working with them, North oversees that businesses in the Shelbyville-Bedford area retain their competitiveness in a “global market.” This requires highly skilled employees.
So, the goal of workforce development is to ensure existing business have everything they need to flourish—including specific training needs and expanded access to labor pools (that is, where can they find employees).
“The overall objective of workforce development is to create economic prosperity—for individuals, for businesses, and for communities,” she said.
For businesses that means having a highly skilled workforce that strengthens their competitive advantage. For small businesses that can look like hospitality or customer service training or receiving industry certifications.
There are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions, North assures.
Development for businesses can also look like filling an increasing need for machinists, maintenance professionals, or nurses in the healthcare industry. And for the individuals that fill those positions that means higher living wage and expanded opportunities.
Some planned workforce development-based events include a Career Exploration Fair for 8th graders on Oct. 20 and a Workforce Development Summit on Oct. 21. This will be an in-service event for high school, middle school teachers, and industry partners in a panel discussion to talk about what job skills are in demand now and in the future.
Education and industry
Workforce development is especially important in the “post-COVID” workforce world where many employees are seeking different skills. The “great resignation” as it has been dubbed by many media outlets, showed that individuals left their old jobs to pursue higher education.
In 2025, 55 percent of jobs in Tennessee will require post-secondary education, beyond high school, according to North.
“We see ourselves as the connection point between industry and education,” North said.
They in the Partnership hope to “bridge the gap” of needs and challenges with success and solutions. This includes providing opportunities for young professionals to create a “well-rounded business climate,” and not just a “brain drain” as young professionals seek other areas for growth and employment.
North emphasized the need for programs such as the 8th grade Career Exploration program and Tenders and TCAT, which North said all work to help transition students seamlessly into post-secondary education.
In the end, this pulls together to provide the community with sustainable economic growth.
“I am thoroughly impressed with leadership on the City and County levels. And the efforts to work collaboratively. Everyone is working together to that common goal,” North said.
And that common goal is “a successful Shelbyville-Bedford.”
“I am looking forward to the results of the movement momentum and excitement and energy in Bedford County. There’s a lot of excitement and there’s a lot of energy surrounding future plans for the community.”
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