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18K jobs remain unfilled due to lack of educated workforce

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Think back to old television's Gomer Pyle. Remember the loveable Gomer was a gas station attendant and on occasion was called on to be a Mayberry Sheriff's deputy.

He worked far better at the gas station as it was a skill that matched his talents.

It was one of those rare moments in recent years where representatives of state and local government gathered in the same place and managed to check their egos at the door. But, with dire figures about unemployment in Memphis on the rise, it was the appropriate time to have a conversation about work.

"We wanted to have a conversation together where city council members and Shelby County legislative members could have a conversation and get out of their silos and look at the positives that emanate from this community and find out what we can do to make them even better," said State Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

A better educated workforce. It's proven an elusive goal at a critical time when Memphis and Shelby County governments attempt to reel in national and international businesses with controversial economic incentives. At the same time Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's "Drive To 55" education incentive strives to have the majority of Tennesseans attaining college degrees by 2025.

"What can we do to help knit those folks who get degrees or who are working, learning, simultaneously together with employers," Sen. Norris said.

As they used to say on the A-Team it is lovely when a plan comes together. Especially, when a recent report asserted more than 18,000 jobs in the area remain unfilled due to a lack of an educated workforce.

"For us to have to go outside our community to look for a chemist, it pains me every time we do it," said Kathy Buckman Gibson of Buckman Laboratories. "It's expensive as well in terms of just the cost. In terms of every time I have to bring somebody into Memphis, the chance that they may not stay is higher than if I'm able to hire someone living in this community."

"There's a gap between the number of folks who were employed right before the recession and those who are employed today," Sen. Norris said. "That would bring $1 billion of revenue back into this city, if those jobs were filled."

But, the conversation attendees also were told of the success stories that happen when companies like Unilever in Millington decided to go the homegrown route of partnering with local colleges to educate and train employees specifically to meet the company needs.

"What we've actually got going on is a partnership with Southwest Tennessee (Community College) to raise basic skills for the factory employees that we've got in a very high tech factory," said Larry Gibson, Unilever plant manager.

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