Workforce development is key in the new University of Tennessee-CGI partnership

When CGI decided to open an IT support center in Knoxville, there was a major draw for the company: the possibility of partnering with the University of Tennessee.

UT was equally excited, and plans for a partnership began taking shape. Focusing on workforce development and creating a 21st century workforce will be a main goal, according to both CGI and UT.

The global tech company coming to Knoxville this year plans to get involved with UT students and faculty, whether that's through internships, research opportunities or assisting with developing class curriculum. Partnering with University of Tennessee was a big draw for CGI to open up offices in Knoxville, said Will LaBar, CGI vice president.

"We're really excited about working with the students and the faculty, and just getting involved in day-to-day education, and building the workforce of the future in Knoxville," LaBar said.

CGI will open an IT support center in Knoxville, investing $27 million and bringing 300 tech jobs to the area by 2026.The company plans to recruit heavily from UT, working with students from the Haslam College of Business and Tickle College of Engineering.

Specifically, students from data analytics, machine learning, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence fields will have the opportunity to partner with CGI, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said at the company's announcement in late February.

“Our new partnership with CGI is the first step toward developing a long-term alignment that includes not only recruitment of our students and workforce development for alumni, but also the opportunity to engage with a multinational information technology company on large-scale research and innovation initiatives,” Plowman said at the announcement.

Internship and research opportunities for UT

CGI has seven other IT delivery centers in the U.S., with Knoxville becoming the eighth. Hiring began in March, according to a news release from UT.

CGI's other locations in the U.S. partner with universities as well. In those locations, that looks like providing internships for students, mentoring opportunities and research opportunities for students and faculty, LaBar said.

Students at UT will have the opportunity to do internships with CGI, which LaBar said could turn into job offers later on.

"We're really interested in building a tight partnership where we're able to help guide students at the university and guide the university to create the type of workforce that CGI is looking for, as well as other companies in our industry, as well as what clients are looking for," LaBar said.

CGI was founded in 1976 and is one of the largest independent IT and business consulting services firms in the world. It employs 76,000 consultants and professionals at 400 locations worldwide. CGI currently employs 13,000 people in the U.S., and 120 of those are in Tennessee. CGI serves clients in manufacturing, utilities, health care, government, retail and other sectors.

'Thinking holistically about workforce development'

Deborah Crawford, vice chancellor for research at UT, said she's excited to see how the partnership can prepare students for a job in the 21st century.

"We look at the opportunity in sort of two ways," Crawford said. "One is around workforce development, how CGI's interests in developing a 21st century workforce to meet their needs intersects with the university's mission to prepare graduates at the undergraduate and graduate level for long, enriching, rewarding careers."

Deborah Crawford, vice chancellor for research at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is photographed on UT’s campus in Knoxville on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Crawford said she's excited to see how the partnership between UT and CGI can prepare students for a job in the 21st century.

The other aspect that interested UT was looking at the needs of the future workforce, and how UT can partner with community colleges and businesses in the area to address those needs, Crawford said.

"It's really sort of thinking holistically about workforce development," Crawford said.

CGI also hopes to partner with the K-12 schools and help young students be exposed to STEM fields, LaBar said.

"We really want to create partnerships with the local school system, with the university, with community partners, with other businesses in Knoxville, so that we can position Knoxville to be a great place to live and work, not just for our employees ... but everyone else there," LaBar said.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Monica Kast

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Published April 16, 2021