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TBR Member Update: Work Based Learning

 TBR Member Update: Work Based Learning

Dear Roundtable members,

As we so often hear, there is a real and pressing need for a more prepared, skilled workforce. The Roundtable is involved with many efforts to address this issue. The Drive to 55, Pathways to Prosperity, TN Promise, and TN Reconnect are just a few of the initiatives that we participate in in an effort to address this need. We are aware that companies feel that potential employees tend to lack many of the “soft skills” necessary to be an effective and efficient worker. Many of these skills are best learned through experience within a workplace, which led us to explore the concept and utilization of work-based learning experiences.


Research into successful work-based learning models led us to visit Southwire, a company headquartered in Carrollton, Georgia, that faced the problems of high dropout rates at their local high schools and a limited pool of qualified job applicants. In the face of these issues, Southwire decided to partner with their school district to find a way to reach the students at highest risk of dropping out. Southwire took the radical step of building a separate plant to be completely run by high school students. These students work as Southwire employees for 4 hours a day, earning a wage and learning on-the-job skills while the remainder of the day is spent in the classroom. (That student run warehouse, incidentally, was profitable after a mere 90 days.) This program has since spread to other areas of the state under the name 12 for Life. Last year, about 92% of eligible students in the program graduated; keep in mind, that’s 92% of a pool of students deemed least likely to complete high school.


This program is changing the lives of the students who are able to graduate and go on to a post-secondary institution or start their career out of high school, but it’s also impacting businesses. Southwire is proud to say that it was able to fulfill every promise it made on the outset of the program in 2007- except one. They promised students that they would hire all qualified candidates that completed the program. Today, they simply have too many great applicants and not enough open positions, and have reached out to other businesses who are more than happy to hire the highly trained and experienced young men and woman graduating from 12 for Life. As far as problems go, that’s one that the business community in Tennessee would be lucky to have.

We will continue exploring the issue of work-based learning, and will be happy to share any of the information that we have collected so far. The Roundtable will be partnering with several other organizations to put on an event around work-based learning, set tentatively for September 16th in Nashville. We will present some best practices, address the myths-vs-facts of perceived barriers relating to employing minors, and highlight opportunities for businesses to engage in this work. We will send more information as the planning process continues.


Cassie Lynn Foote



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