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UTSI Professor Tells Idaho Lawmakers of Nation’s Technical Work Force Crisis

Gregory A. Sedrick, the newest full-time professor at The University of Tennessee Space Institute, testified before Idaho lawmakers this week about what he calls a “national technical work force crisis.”

Sedrick founded and is executive director of the New Economy Institute, a regional economic development organization established to assist businesses in applying new technology and work force development.

“We need Engineering Management to bridge the gap between management and technology,” Sedrick says. “We must work smarter as we face job loss, career technicians being laid off because their jobs have gone overseas, and too few young people going into science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

This week he is opening an NEI office in Idaho, which recently joined Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina and Missouri as participants. Sedrick, noting that “other states are asking for our help,” emphasizes that the work force problem exists throughout the nation.

“Getting Sedrick is a terrific boost to our program,” said John E. Caruthers, UT associate vice president and UTSI’s chief operations officer. “He is the key to our growth plans in this area. Not only is he recruiting and teaching Engineering Management students, he also is pushing EM principles to solve critical problems in the nation’s work force.”

Sedrick is co-author of one of three proposals chosen by Gov. Phil Bredesen to submit to the U.S. Labor Department. It is aimed at developing a “regional, integrating approach for creation of high skilled, high wage jobs and careers.” If approved, the initiative grant would bring about $3 million to UTSI over three years.
In response to the Labor Department’s soliciting three proposals from each state with plans to accept 10, Sedrick and James L. Catanzaro from Chattanooga State Technical Community College, principals of the New Economy Institute (NEI), submitted a plan called “WIRED.” This acronym stands for ”Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development.” The proposal is being passed on to the Labor Department by the State of Tennessee Jobs Cabinet.

He is bringing NEI with him to UTSI. It will be housed in the Distance Learning wing of the main academic building. NEI emphasizes partnerships, new skills training, recruitment of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and collaboration by colleges, universities, technical centers, labor unions, and other institutions. Scott Dismukes, director of communications and public strategy with NEI, will join Sedrick at UTSI.

The WIRED proposal is a “continuation” of NEI, which is already doing demonstration projects for the Labor Department. If funded, Sedrick says, “WIRED would allow us to do more of those pilot demonstrations across the seven states in which we operate. We picked the New Economy title because with the rapid increase in technology, we must have educated work forces.”

A long-time UTSI adjunct faculty member, Sedrick joined the full-time faculty at the start of the year as part of UTSI’s new emphasis on the EM program headed by Max Hailey.

“We need more engineers, scientists, and technicians taking our EM classes and applying that body of knowledge to improve all of our industries in Tennessee,” he says. “We are working with all eight of the state’s engineering schools so we can offer the EM program with the best minds that the UT system has. We expect to expand in sheer numbers, improve through collaboration, as we have more faculty working together.”

“We (NEI) are in the background as enablers,” Sedrick said. “We want to help businesses get funding and in various other ways.”

By “leveraging the business and educational resources of the NEI,” Sedrick proposes “building on and expanding existing efforts funded by U.S. Department of Labor grants, government programs, regional academia training resources, and private funds.”

The WIRED proposal takes this work to the next step by implementing the Tennessee Innovation Roadmap recommendations for a technology-based economic development, entrepreneurship and work force infrastructure designed by the State of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD), the professor said. It focuses on “core occupations” for the Tennessee Valley Corridor in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Also the plan addresses the middle-aged workers who need skill certification in order to take advantage of emerging technologies.

“The big question is how are we going to survive in a new economy,” Sedrick said. “In the short term we want to take care of middle-aged workers who suddenly no longer have a job because it has gone off shore. We must certify and retrain them in emerging technologies.”

Sedrick says so-called “baby boomers” are not doing well in science and math and as a result there is a “work force crises across the country.” The challenge, he says, is to create more jobs in those areas “to get them excited by providing a place for them to work and build careers. We need to commercialize intellectual property coming out of Federal labs so as to create more jobs for the next generation.”

A professional engineer, Sedrick came to Tennessee in 1991 from the Virginia Polytechnic and State University where he was a research associate with the Virginia Productivity Center. Sedrick recently served as founding Dean and Professor of Engineering and Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University. He previously served as vice president and professor of Chattanooga State Technical Community College and was Chief Academic Officer of the college. Prior to this he served in many capacities at UT-Chattanooga, including Interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Chair and Director of Engineering Management, Industrial Engineering, and Manufacturing Engineering Programs and Associate Professor of Engineering. While at UTC, he held a UC Foundation Professorship, served two terms as Vice President of Faculty Council, two terms as Graduate Council President, and was elected to Alpha Society (community honor society). He has served on the Governor’s committee for Online Education and on both distance education implementation teams of the Tennessee Board of Regents and the UT System. In 1994, Sedrick was elected to Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Management. He received his BS and Ph.D. from the University of Missouri at Rolla with a minor in electrical engineering. He holds the Master of Science in Systems Management with the Florida Institute of Technology and an electronics/electrical professional certificate from the O’Fallon Technology Center in St. Louis.