It is one thing to attract great talent. It is another thing to keep it. Tennessee’s automotive manufacturers have experienced tremendous growth and success over the last few years. Along with this growth comes the challenge of attracting and retaining a workforce that can continually deliver high quality results. Although there are many components that make up such a magnetic workplace, without question the primary factor is a strong leadership team. Partnering with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), UT CIS launched the Automotive Supply Chain Workforce Readiness Program to help identify and prepare up and coming leaders who can help ensure Tennessee’s continued success in this all-important manufacturing sector.

The ARC is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local governments. Their mission includes, among other things, investing in entrepreneurial and business development strategies that strengthen Appalachia's economy. They, along with UT CIS understand that for the automotive cluster in Tennessee to continue to grow and increase competitiveness it is crucial that manufacturers understand workforce needs and skill gaps; have highly trained leaders and supervisors with the skills to manage, retain and advance new and existing employees; and secure needed education and training resources from the region’s higher education institutions.

According to the Tennessee Economic and Community Development office there are over 130,000 people employed in the automotive sector in our state. They work at more than 900 companies spread across 86 Tennessee counties, and every year they contribute to the production of hundreds of thousands of automobiles. To continue this success and to accommodate the expected growth, leaders at all levels will need to understand today’s workplace dynamics and the rapid changes that are shaping its future.  

The modern American workplace is changing at a pace unlike anything experienced in our history. Managing these variations requires that today’s leaders continuously hone a more complex set of leadership skills. Skills such as emotional intelligence, team building and problem solving are just as important as the concepts of lean manufacturing, 5S and other process-centric disciplines. The Automotive Supply Chain Workforce Readiness Program focuses on the basics of leadership. Topics such as Essential Skills of Leadership and Communication, Motivating Team Members and Developing and Coaching Others are part of the program. After covering the basics of leadership, the training focus shifts to include topics such as Identifying Improvement Opportunities, Critical Thinking and Risk-Based Thinking – topics designed to help companies establish and nurture a cadre of leaders who can engage their teams, care for them and challenge them to excel.    

There are other factors to consider when it comes to the impact of leadership training on the whole labor shed. The aging workforce means that many of today’s leaders will soon be retiring. The leaders that replace them need time to build their experiences. Starting from a solid foundation will be crucial to their development. Also, the career expectations of the latest generation of workers requires that tomorrows leaders understand how to motivate and encourage these team members to give their best efforts.

Tennessee has built a strong, modern automotive manufacturing sector that shows promising signs of continued growth. An important key to keeping this vital industry strong is having talented and well- trained leaders at all levels who can effectively lead a modern workforce – frontline supervisors, team leaders, and shift leaders being among the most important. This is the focus of the Automotive Supply Chain Workforce Readiness Program

If you are a manufacturer supporting the automotive sector from a location within the Tennessee ARC region (, contact UT CIS to discuss how this leadership training could help you in your quest to create a workplace that attracts top talent and fosters a workplace where they will want to stay.