In Tennessee, the Highlands Training Center is tackling poverty through training, skills development and workforce re-entry
Submitted by Enbridge Inc.
The Highlands Training Center was born with a clear goal.
Bring 1,600 local children out of poverty by 2025.
“Our goal number is just 10% of the children currently living in poverty in the Upper Cumberland region,” says Ryan Barnhart, executive director of the Highlands Training Center. “We’re working with almost 800 families, including parents and grandparents, to bring these kids out of poverty over the next three years.”
The Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee faces a high youth poverty rate, which as of 2020 sat at 24.6% for infants, children and teens aged up to 17—about 7% higher than the national average.
After receiving a significant grant from a federal government program in 2022, the Highlands Economic Partnership (HEP) was “hot on the trail” to open up a training facility in Cookville, TN this year.
As the result of a collaboration between HEP and Empower Upper Cumberland (UC), the Highlands Training Center emerged—and now offers programs to people in four key counties that identify key employment gaps and provide essential skills training to encourage workforce participation.
“These individuals have so many barriers to overcome just to get inside these doors,” says Barnhart. “Things like transportation, child care, housing, mental health issues—we want to give these people opportunities that they may never have had before.”
The Highlands group’s job training program focuses on helping people who are on or eligible for government-assisted programs.
This year, Enbridge entered into a multi-year commitment to give $20,000 annually to the Highlands Economic Partnership as part of our commitment to building vibrant and sustainable communities near our operations. The Fueling Futures funding helps to keep the training center operational and also supports the My Work Ready program.
My Work Ready is a 32-hour course that helps participants realize their strengths and interests while improving financial literacy and equipping them for not only participation, but success, in the workforce. Soft skills are also a major focus of the program.
“It’s a two-way street,” says Barnhart. “The program not only helps our participants; we feel as though we’re helping to fill employment voids with the best possible employees out there.”
The facility opened its doors to its first participants this summer, with nine inaugural enrolments into the program. Twelve participants have already completed the program and qualify for graduation this year.
The My Work Ready program is accredited through the state’s Department of Higher Education, meaning graduates can go to potential employers with a certificate in hand that verifies their work readiness and ultimately boosts their chances of employment.
“Our hope,” says Barnhart, “is that each participant that comes through the Highlands Training Center will learn how to work hard, create success, and live happy.”
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