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VOL. 133 | NO. 168 | Friday, August 24, 2018

Ernest Strickland Has Been on City’s Front Line

Anna Cox Thompson

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Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.

Some people grow up waiting for the chance to get out of their hometown. Others, like Ernest Strickland, senior vice president of workforce development for the Greater Memphis Chamber, view staying put as an opportunity to make a difference.

“Born and raised in Memphis. As any Memphian would start, I went to Hamilton High School,” he says with a laugh. “Love Hamilton … Absolutely! I’ve had a couple of opportunities to leave, but I chose Memphis a long time ago.”

His journey of community work in his city began as a Memphis police officer, something he says many people don’t know about him.

Ernest Strickland (Antwoine McClellan)

“My calling has always been to work with people in a rebuilding capacity. Unlike typical patrolmen, my last four years (of the eight he was an officer) were spent establishing a substation in the Bethel Grove community, adjacent to Orange Mound.

“I was setting up youth programs for those who wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement where we would train them on how to be police officers. I worked in building up the relationship between the communities and police officers.”

His time with the boys in blue helped set him up for his next adventure, a career in real estate. While an officer, he participated in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Officer Next Door Program” and once he began his own real estate firm, his niche was police and firefighters.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. That company was a success for about eight years until the markets no longer had an appetite for the type of deals we were doing,” he explains. “I had to start looking for a job, and found the chamber.”

Though he admits his original intent wasn’t to stay long, he found that he didn’t want to walk away from the work after all.

“When I started working here, my plan was to learn that unknown business variable that I could use in launching my next venture, but I fell in love with the work,” Strickland says.

For Strickland, his work at the chamber centers on bridging the gap between the supply of talent to the demand of employers. Specifically, the chamber has created its T.E.M.P. Gold Standard certification, which aims to find more opportunities for long-term employment and career paths for individuals instead of temporary work.

“When I was first promoted to SVP of workforce, I wanted to take a step back and see where best to focus our efforts and leverage our resources so the ecosystem could be most impacted,” Strickland says. “I also realized there was a disconnect between soft skills/critical skills. Technical skills will get you hired, but not having soft skills can get you fired.

“We judge ourselves based on our intentions, and we judge others based on their actions. This is true in the workplace, too. Bridging the gap from intentions to actions is what we’re working on with programs like our Gold Standard platform.”

Beyond his advocacy for creative workforce solutions, Strickland’s devotion to Memphis also manifests in his work with youth. His real passion is for ensuring the next generation is equipped to carry the work forward.

“This is a city where you can make a difference, and I have refocused my spare time toward youth development. That’s a passion of mine, not just because I have four kids to develop myself,” he says laughing.

“That’s where we can see transformational movement toward a city that we all aspire to have. Working with young people to the point that they can take the baton and run with it is rewarding.”

Ernest Strickland is a graduate of New Memphis’ Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.

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