Pellissippi State, Cherokee Millwright collaborate on apprenticeship program

Pictured from left, Cherokee Millwright’s Dalton Robinson, Pellissippi State instructor Tim Napier, and Cherokee’s Steve Smith and Brandon Waggoner. Four nights a week, Cherokee Millwright apprentices train at Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus.

When Cherokee Millwright and Mechanical decided to redesign and improve its apprenticeship training program, the company turned to a trusted partner: Pellissippi State Community College’s Business and Community Services.

With home offices in Maryville and Morristown, Cherokee Millwright moves and installs equipment in factories and plants. The work is intense, takes place in a variety of industrial settings, and calls for employees with a broad range of on-the-job experience and sound technical skills.

“We provide [people] and labor to do jobs all over the country,” says Dave Bennett, CEO of Cherokee Millwright. “So we’re only as good as the people we have working with us.”

That’s where Pellissippi State’s Business and Community Services comes in. BCS collaborated with Cherokee to develop a new curriculum for the company’s four-year apprenticeship program.

The courses have been delivered at the Blount County Campus’ Manufacturing Tech Lab since January of this year. The state-of-the-art lab has 2,500 square feet dedicated to workforce training and also features the Claude F. Moon Welding Center.

A Cherokee Millwright apprentice practices welding at Pellissippi State’s Claude F. Moon Welding Center at the Blount County Campus. The college’s Business and Community Services Division worked with the East Tennessee–based company to create a new four-year apprenticeship program.

BCS offers its services to area employers who need workforce training designed specifically for their needs. In addition to serving companies, the division offers affordable short-term continuing education to individuals for professional and personal growth.

Cherokee Millwright owner Randy Massey says he is pleased with the quality of the training provided by Pellissippi State instructors and the responsive service of the BCS staff.

“If we want our training modified, it’s a phone call,” said Massey. “Or if we want something added, it’s a phone call. And they have the expertise on site to add it to our training program.”

Cherokee Millwright first created an apprenticeship program with Pellissippi State in the mid-1990s. A few years later, the company decided to take over the training of its employees. Upon reviewing the program about two years ago, however, Cherokee officials realized that their top project leaders were those who had gone through the apprenticeship classes with Pellissippi State.

Now Pellissippi State instructors once again work with Cherokee Millwright apprentices. There are four separate apprenticeship training groups, and each apprentice class attends training one night a week. The training increases in difficulty and complexity each year as employees progress in the program.

The training is critical for a company that sees itself as a one-stop shop for industrial clients and looks to recruit and retain a range of skilled employees such as millwrights, the jacks-of-all-trades among technical workers.

“We’re very specialized, and it’s not training you can get just anywhere,” said Massey.

Pellissippi State’s customized training for local industry also meets a need in post-secondary education, as Gov. Bill Haslam looks to make higher education more effective in Tennessee and meet the growing demand for more skilled and educated workers.

Learn more about Pellissippi State’s Business and Community Services at or call (865) 539-7167.