Amazon in Nashville: Area colleges want to be key player in company’s workforce development
Before Amazon’s announcement earlier this month to bring an operations hub to Nashville, college leaders rallied for months to sell the company on the city’s workforce training.
Belmont University’s Bob Fisher told the tech giant last year that there would be a collective effort from universities throughout Middle Tennessee to train future Amazon workers.
“Vanderbilt, Lipscomb and Tennessee State University are all valuable assets,” Fisher said, adding there are also other numerous colleges dotting the area.
With Amazon bringing thousands of jobs to Nashville, Fisher said the company won’t be able to fill those in a day.
“We will have to help train workers,” he said. “We can fill that need.”
Indeed, for Amazon to find the as many as 5,000 workers to bring to the downtown Nashville Yards development, college leaders will need to figure out how to adjust to, sustain and support the company’s workforce needs now and beyond.
That might mean colleges providing new programs or specialized job training for newly recruited Amazon employees. College leaders are unclear what types of programs they might need to add, but it could include technology and management programs.
Leaders of the area’s largest institutions agree that the influx of jobs — the largest single jobs announcement in state history — presents an exciting challenge for their schools and plenty of opportunity for students.
Each is working to understand its role as Amazon sets up shop within the city in 2019.
“As part of the process and putting together this application, it was not about one single institution, but about working together,” Nashville State Community College President Shanna Jackson said. “We are not just asking what we need as colleges but trying to come to the table as a partner. We want to deliver what Amazon needs.”
Amazon plans to recruit here and abroad
The announcement last week, while a tremendous investment in Nashville and Tennessee, was a third-place prize in the highly watched and competitive process to find Amazon’s new headquarters.
Amazon, based in Seattle, announced in September 2017 it was seeking a second headquarters location. Nashville was a top 20 finalist, but the company split the “HQ2” grand prize between northern Virginia and New York City.
The Nashville operations hub represents a $230 million investment from the company. Amazon plans to recruit jobs that will include management and tech-focused positions, including software developers, with earnings expected to average $150,000 a year.
Amazon is expected to recruit locally and abroad.
A pathway to Amazon
Nashville State, Jackson said, is working on new programs that are geared toward the growing tech industry.
“I want a way to have current Nashvillians find a pathway into Amazon,” Jackson said. “We have an opportunity where we can start right now getting students ready.”
But the city must make headway in training tech workers. The city lags behind other major cities in its concentration of tech workers, falling outside the top 20 in the country, according to a Brookings Institution report.
Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos said the investment by the company is one that promises to enhance the energy and spirit of an already thriving city but also signals new possibilities for students.
“We are proud to welcome our new neighbors and look forward to working with the Amazon team to unlock new opportunities and find creative ways to benefit our shared community,” Zeppos said.
And other area schools are ready to do their part.
Middle Tennessee State University was involved in the talks to bring Amazon to the city and President Sidney McPhee said the school’s supply chain management and internet technology programs drew interest. The school is also a large supplier of employees, McPhee said, graduating about 4,000 students a year.
But McPhee said with a growing number of Nashville-area tech jobs, the school must expand its programs. MTSU is considering a technology-focused school with its Data Science Institute as part of the offerings.
“While there is a challenge, MTSU and other area schools are up to meeting the needs of industry,” McPhee said.
Preparing for the unknown
Other college leaders also welcome the challenge.
Lipscomb University’s Susan Galbreath, senior vice president of strategy, said there are still plenty of questions to be answered about what jobs Amazon is bringing to Nashville.
While the school hasn’t had any formal talks with the company, Galbreath said the school is well positioned to meet Amazon’s needs.
Lipscomb’s tech offerings are growing, including its College of Computing and Technology. And the school offers programs in business management.
“It’s a large employment pool, and one university won’t meet all the company’s needs,” Galbreath said. “But we very much will do the best we can.”
Belmont’s Fisher also said he’s unsure what types of jobs Amazon will be looking to hire, but said he can imagine numerous, including management, marketing and public relations. But getting students ready is going to take a village, he said.
“We are in some ways a fragmented group,” Fisher said of the area’s colleges. “There are some large and some small, and we go about problems in a different way. But here is a case where we can get together on the front end and talk about what we are going to do now that we landed this fish.”[Read more at the Tennessean]