Skill Up Tennessee 2020 Impact Statement

Skill Up Tennessee is UT Extension’s SNAP Employment and Training Program conducted in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The program helps qualifying adult SNAP participants set and reach training and employment goals that lead to self-sufficiency.


In 2020, an average of nearly 870,000 Tennesseans participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) each month. The latest available income data shows that the average median income of households on SNAP was $19,917—one-third the average median household income of non-SNAP households.

While 75 percent of these SNAP households had one or more workers, 53 percent still were below the poverty level.

Individuals receiving SNAP benefits may face challenges to employment, including knowledge of jobs available, the skills needed for those jobs, and how to gain those skills. Cost is another important challenge. These costs might include direct training costs, such as tuition and books, and vital supports, such as transportation and child care.


Partners at the county level market and recruit interested individuals for the program in collaboration with Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agents and Career Navigators (Extension Assistants). Career Navigators serve as case managers and help participants address barriers, make a plan, and pursue their goals.

Low levels of training and education may limit employment opportunities for individuals, affecting their families. Middle-skill jobs, or those requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree, are in demand and available with a moderate amount of training. In 2020, Extension reported:

  • 172 group meetings
  • 85 on-site visits
  • 4,698 personal correspondences
  • 141 digital contacts
  • 22 mass outreach activities

Partnerships are in place with statewide, regional, and local organizations to promote the program.


Skill Up Tennessee connects participants with support and resources to help them gain the training and skills needed for employment.

Supportive services such as tuition assistance, help with the cost of textbooks, and assistance with transportation and child care were provided as barriers were identified.

In 2020, 360 individuals preregistered, and 292 of those were verified as eligible to participate in the program. Together with those already engaged, 398 individuals from 64 counties participated in the program. Of those, 244 participated in vocational/technical training at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology, community college, or other training provider; 61 earned a recognized credential in vocational/technical training, at least 16 have obtained employment, and 38 participated in job retention.

Realizing Success

Clarrisa Sims was a single mother living in Jackson, Tennessee, working in the emergency room 20-30 hours a week as a tech and attending classes when Deanna Poole, a Skill Up Tennessee Career Navigator, came to speak at the school she was attending. According to Sims, the meeting changed everything.

I wish I had known about it sooner.

“It was rough,” she said while recalling the hurdles she encountered trying to manage her finances and logistics of life. She expressed the stresses of not knowing who would keep her son when he wasn’t in school due to inclement weather or how she would afford the gas to and from work and school. When Poole explained how the Skill Up Tennessee program can help provide relief in the form of gas cards, child care, tuition, and supplies such as uniforms, Sims knew it was something she wanted to pursue.

The outreach of Skill Up Tennessee is creating a pathway for participants to get past some of the financial and obligational setbacks in life that can keep someone from pursuing training toward a career.

In 2019, Sims graduated from her nursing program and started as a licensed practical nurse at a Jackson clinic where she gained experience and enjoyed the fast pace of her new career. In 2020, with the onset of the pandemic, she had the credentials necessary to pursue another career path serving as a private care nurse for a child in need. Ever-growing, she is considering going back to school to make the transition to registered nurse.

Sims said the impact her hard work and dedication had on her son is lasting. He acknowledges her study skills, her determination, and her achievement, which in turn makes her proud.

When asked, she said Skill Up Tennessee helped provide her with the incremental steps that pushed her toward her career goal. Her encouragement to others who may be where she was asking themselves how they can do this is to be really strong-minded, accept social and emotional support by leaning on their teachers and classmates, and get to know their local Skill Up Career Navigator. “In the end, it’s worth it,” she said.

This program is funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.