Teens, Factories Helping One Another Get Back on Track

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In 2007, the American high school graduation rate was at an underwhelming 74 percent. Factors including extreme poverty, teen pregnancy and crime attributed to the drop outs. Today, even with a diploma, countless students enter the workforce unprepared for the professional world. With schools not teaching work appropriate attitudes and job skills, many enter the workforce at an extreme disadvantage.

Southwire, 'North America's leading wire and cable manufacturer,' is one American factory looking to change this predicament for both sides, reports The Wall Street Journal. The electrical wire, cable and cord manufacturer began their program in 2007, employing students from the nearby area (an hour west of Atlanta). Southwire trains students for four hours a day on the line, with eight full hours on education. Every lesson gets applied to the job to ensure real world application and comprehension. Furthermore, unlike most internships, Southwire students receive an above minimum wage salary that can reach up to nine dollars per hour. This helps keep economically deficient individuals from dropping out of school to help support their family, a growing concern in the country.

What Southwire is doing isn't new. Companies across the country are trying to find and train new talent in ways schools are not. It's Southwire's level of investment that sets them apart – so much so that the schools were initially cautious to allow the program be that involved. Instead, the school suggested a larger donation from Southwire. When the company noted that in the past those efforts turned up fruitless, the program began.

In 2007, 69 students enrolled in the first program -- learning physics to quality control. Now at over 250, the program sees male and female students from at-risk neighborhoods to students that weren't getting a full grasp of their education in the conventional school setting. Many credit the program for making them mature or steering them away from a dangerous path in life.

When students graduate, the local school issues them their diploma, like any other vocational program. Upon graduating, 40 percent of Southwire's students have gone on to pursue higher education while 18 percent stay on at Southwire fulltime. Even if they pursue work at another company, the student has already received an immersive apprenticeship that can be invaluable during a job search.

Since making the initial $3 million investment, Southwire reports a small financial return in their investment. However, graduation rates rose to 81 percent in 2012. If that number continues to rise, the investment will be worth a lifetime.
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