By LUCAS L. JOHNSON IINASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) â¿¿ Preparing Tennessee's youth to be more competitive in a tough job market requires a collaborative effort from different groups, say state lawmakers in agreement with a recent report. The report released earlier this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count project called on businesses, governments, philanthropies and communities to work together to create opportunities that will benefit young people and build a stronger workforce for the future. The report showed employment of youth ages 16 to 24 nationwide is at its lowest point in 50 years. In Tennessee, fewer than one in four youth ages 16 to 19 were working last year, and only about 60 percent ages 20 to 24 were employed, according to the report. It said part of the blame is the economic downturn that has forced adolescents and young adults to compete for entry-level jobs that older, displaced workers are also seeking. Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Delores Gresham said Tennessee has passed education reforms that should help students perform better in school and hopefully be more competitive in the workforce, but she said "everybody has to do their part." "It takes every one of us at every level to ... create opportunities for our young people," said the Somerville Republican. "We want our young people to succeed." Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, agreed. "Preparing young people for successful employment requires a collaborative commitment on the part of families, schools, businesses and community organizations," O'Neal said. "We need to work together to provide youth with opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills necessary for them to become productive employees." The report offered several recommendations that included exploring new ways to create jobs through the support of public and private investors, and employer-sponsored "earn-and-learn programs" that foster the talent and skills that businesses require.
Newly elected Rep. Harold Love noted that some schools in Nashville have so-called academies that connect students with business partners to provide real-world learning experiences and professional training.For instance, he said one academy teaches students how to run a restaurant. "This gives students an opportunity if they want to pursue a course for college they still can, and maybe go into the culinary arts," said the Nashville Democrat. "Or, if they want to be able to work in a restaurant, actually go from high school to work in a restaurant." House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said helping students as much as possible obtain a strong skill set before they enter the workforce is also beneficial to employers. "We're putting a product out there that they have to be retrained once they're hired," he said. Also announced this week, Tennessee is among five states that plan to add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013. Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York were the other states that will take part in the three-year pilot program, which is intended to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level.