Chattanooga has an ambitious goal. They want to double the percentage of graduates from the Hamilton County Public schools who go on to obtain postsecondary degrees or credential by 2025. This means going from 30% of the high school graduates continuing their education to 60%. And it’s not just the high school students they are focusing on its adults as well. They want to push that percentage from the current 38% to 75% by 2025.
Why such an aggressive program?
“Four years ago we decided that improving the education system was the way to fill the 15,000 jobs that were going unfilled,” explains Molly Blankenship, interim executive director of Chattanooga 2.0.
So, they formed Chattanooga 2.0 (Chatt 2.0) The movement has three targeted development areas: early childhood learning, K-12 education and talent development.
Identifying transformative strategies was key. One was the Future Ready Institutes, which allows Hamilton County high school students to have learning opportunities around a career theme, with the opportunity to prepare for a successful life after high school. Each school offers Institutes based on specific fields.
Some examples of institutes include:
- Advanced Mfg. and Mechatronics
- Innovative Engineering
- Robots and Welding
- Industrial Manufacturing
One institute, the Advanced Manufacturing Mechatronics, has partnered with many manufacturers in the Chattanooga area to bring real-world issues and workplace situations into the classroom. These partners include Gestamp, Volkswagen, Tennessee Rand, Automation IG, Southern Tray and more.
Gestamp, a Spanish multinational company, which manufactures components for the automotive industry, allows high school students to get a full-day work-based learning experience while also completing their education. Students take online academic classes in a computer lab at Gestamp and work during the school day in the Gestamp plant.
Gestamp’s apprenticeship program is the first youth apprenticeship program in Tennessee to earn the U.S. Department of Labor’s registered apprenticeship designation.
At Gestamp students are paid $9 an hour while they are in the program. When they complete the apprenticeship requirements students earn $14 an hour.
Participants learn machine setup and operation, how to recognize and repair malfunctioning machines, inspect and perform quality checks, clean and perform audits, and cross-train.
This program is paying off for Gestamp, and the city. A high percentage of the students who went through the training are at either the Tennessee College of Applied Technology or at another college. And of the twenty-six students in the first class, nine work at the company and all are registered apprentices. The jobs include metal finisher, press tech trainees, welders, quality tech and operators.
Building on the success of this program, the company plans to add another module to teach industry methods as well as soft skills.
When asked about best practices that other manufacturers could use when developing their own programs, Gestamp offered some practical ideas:
- As the students can be as young as 16 years old, permission for such young workers needs to be cleared through the company leadership and possibly state agencies that deal with labor laws.
- Keep students on first shift and not too late in the evening (not past ten pm) to minimize risks and supervision.
- Have current associated involved in developing the student program which helps build acceptance of the program and also give associates a say on what training needs to be done. Also introducing the students to the associates that they will be working with prior to the beginning of the apprenticeship makes for an easier transition.
- Gives students an extra week of training with a major emphasis on safety. We do a ten- hour OSHA certificate training.
- Designate a leader to mentor/train the students and be accountable for them. We have a fulltime person who coordinates and acts as an intermediary for the supervisor when needed.
Gestamp’s success is exactly what the creators of Chatt 2.0 had in mind. And the community has embraced these efforts. “ Our leadership leans in," says Blankenship. "They are willing to do the work necessary to provide the workforce education that our community needs.”
And time continues to be of the essence. “It’s really important to capitalize on what we are learning and scale strategies like the Gestamp program so we can get ahead of the future workforce challenges.”