Twelve local industry partners huddled into a room Friday at The Venue at Lenoir City to give high school students an idea of what they offer.

About 88 juniors and seniors from Lenoir City High, Loudon High and Greenback schools attended the return of the industry showcase, which had been paused since 2019.

“I think this is tremendous for our students to be able to come out and engage with our local community and industry leaders,” Mike Garren, county director of schools, said. “Ultimately, we’re preparing students either to go on to college or to go into the workforce. This a great opportunity to see what’s available for them and how their classes directly apply to what’s going to happen outside of school.”

Matthew Tinker, county schools CTE director, said the showcase gave students a better chance to see what businesses in their county could offer and how they should tailor learning opportunities at school to fit a specific industry.

“It’s a very important opportunity for them,” Tinker said. “Jack Qualls (Loudon County Economic Development Agency executive director) does a good job of working with the industries and with the schools to make sure that we’re all on the same page. We have industry tours that we set up, we have people from the industries come to the schools and tour the facilities to make sure that we have the most up-to-date equipment that they’re using in their shops that our kids can be training on so the learning curve is as small as it can be when they start their actual employment.”

Tinker noted a recent tour last year at Protomet for Loudon High School students.

Mark Weeks, Lenoir City High School CTE director, said students have not been able to visit local industries as often due to COVID-19, but the school still offers virtual meetings.

“We’re working really hard to try to pull in partners to do internships or work-based learning for kids to just give them a taste,” Weeks said. “Like a couple of these manufacturers said, ‘Hey, if we could just get them here we know how well they’re trained because they’ve come through our work program kind of things.’

“... The conversation we had with the kids coming in is that it works positively for both sets of people,” he added. “The industries are connecting with their future workforce and then we’re just educating these kids on what jobs are available in Loudon County and that whether they step right out the door after graduation or maybe hopefully having them do some internships between their junior and senior year, or if they go to (Tennessee College of Applied Technology) or Roane State, Pellissippi State or go to a four-year school, that these jobs are waiting for them when they get back from that training.”

Paul Boyles, Del Conca human resources director, manned a booth. He said the showcase was a wonderful opportunity to get in touch with the future workforce.

“It gives them direct contact with major employers right in their backyard, and I think it also shows them the variety of opportunity that’s out there for people and their future,” Boyles said. “I don’t view this as we’re going to hire somebody, one of these kids, I really don’t. This is a long-term investment where we know we’re going to benefit from it but they’re going to benefit, too. Even if they don’t come through our door, they know what’s in their backyard.”

The showcase was open 10 a.m.-noon for students and noon-1 p.m. for the community.

“It’s very wanted by the industries,” Blair Patterson, Loudon County EDA administrative liaison, said. “They just want to do whatever they can to connect the pipeline and get connected with the school systems. I mean that’s our future workforce.”