Bradley Leon in the BlueSky classroom/workspace under construction at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s Chattanooga headquarters. 

College students, even in high-demand fields, face a bit of anxiety around finding a job after graduation. For many families, the decision to pursue a college degree at all, or what major a student chooses, hinges on the likelihood of landing a rewarding job. At the same time, many Tennessee employers have more openings in certain fields than graduates they can hire.

What if businesses and universities could collaborate to connect these dots and create mutually beneficial career pathways?

That’s exactly what BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and East Tennessee State University (ETSU) are doing through a new partnership. BlueSky Tennessee Institute powered by ETSU will offer students the chance to earn a bachelor’s degree in computing and earn a job offer from BlueCross – in two years.

Students will take their classes on site at our BlueCross headquarters in Chattanooga, integrating classroom learning with real-world skills training in coding and cybersecurity. They’ll even get to work as BlueCross interns along the way. Our team members will also provide mentoring so students can build the soft skills they also need for workplace success.

We believe BlueSky Institute will be transformational for students, and our recruiting focus will initially center on six high-priority high schools in Hamilton County. We know there are students who have an aptitude for tech and the determination to succeed — but haven’t always had equal exposure or opportunity to enter technology fields. And we chose to make this a bachelor’s degree program, rather than use a certificate-based model, because we want BlueSky Institute graduates to become leaders at BlueCross one day.

For BlueCross, this new program will help address a critical talent shortage. We often have 50 open tech jobs at any given time and struggle to find enough local talent to hire for those positions. We’ve also learned that we often spend 12-18 months training new hires because they aren’t up to speed on the specific skills our work requires. Thanks to project-based learning and internships through the program, BlueSky Institute students will be ready to walk into their jobs and contribute to projects that matter from the day they graduate.

For ETSU, BlueSky Institute demonstrates the university’s entrepreneurial spirit. ETSU has deep expertise in tech education, as one of just three universities with three different programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Their computing graduates have gone on to work for top-tier employers across the country. Now, they’re adapting this foundation to an accelerated format and will deliver it to students learning and working at our BlueCross headquarters in Chattanooga.

And for Tennessee, BlueSky is a model for the next generation of workforce development. Our CEO JD Hickey, MD, compared the BlueSky Institute model to open-source software because we want other employers and universities to adapt the framework. The combination of an accelerated degree, real-world learning and job placement is a winning formula — but we don’t believe it’s limited to tech.

With a model like this, new workforce-education partnerships can launch the careers of nurses and other skilled professionals that our state will always need to thrive. And we’ll celebrate each time another program like BlueSky Institute gets off the ground.

Bradley Leon is executive director of BlueSky Tennessee Institute for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.