I recently traveled with a delegation from Tennessee to visit a wiring packaging facility in Carrollton, Georgia—an unlikely place, perhaps, for the Director of Policy and Research at a nonprofit education organization. I joined colleagues, however, from state government, school and district leaders, teachers, and business representatives to learn about 12 for Life, a program facilitated by Southwire that has changed the life trajectories of hundreds of youth in the Carrollton area and at a second facility in Florence, Alabama. Those trajectories are changed by the work-based learning model in which Southwire has invested for ten years.

Representatives of Tennessee state government agencies, schools,  districts, and businesses visited the 12 for Life Southwire facility in  Carrollton, GA on February 26, 2016
Representatives of Tennessee state government agencies, schools,
districts, and businesses visited the 12 for Life Southwire facility in
Carrollton, Georgia, on February 26, 2016

My colleague Erika Leicht discussed 12 for Life in a blog post last fall, but seeing and talking with the student participants brought the impact of the program to life. High school juniors and seniors comprise nearly all of the staff at the 12 for Life Southwire facility. They spend half their day in on-site classes and half in paid positions. According to 12 for Life, “Students are paid above minimum wage and can increase their income by demonstrating skills such as timeliness, reliability, and accuracy.” 12 for Life enrolls students who would most often be identified as “at risk” of dropping out of high school as a result of coming from low-income backgrounds, struggling with academic achievement, and lacking strong personal support or role models.

Rather than leave school without a high school diploma, more than 90 percent of 12 for Life participants complete high school while also gaining job skills. Outcomes for graduates include:

• 40 percent pursuing postsecondary education, with most attending a local community college
• 20 percent entering the military
• 20 percent working in other regional businesses
• Approximately 50-75 graduates per year accepting full-time Southwire positions

These outcomes change the trajectory of opportunity for graduates who would otherwise face a series of jobs earning less than $9,000 per year and lacking real-world skills and credentials that serve as foundations for personal and professional success.

The 12 for Life facility earned a $3 million profit for Southwire last year. However, the plant manager told our group, “We’re in the people development business. Our most important product is our students.” Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has cited Southwire as a promising model to replicate through other public-private partnerships.

Scaling up programs like 12 for Life requires both vision and commitment from community, education, and business partners. Such partnerships require attention, energy, and resources, but Tennessee has much to learn from 12 for Life, as well as other promising work-based learning and youth apprenticeship opportunities.

This week and next, The SCORE Sheet will feature a series of other promising models to equip students with real-world skills while empowering them for educational and career success beyond high school. In featuring these stories, we hope to highlight bold visions and deep commitments to ensure college and career readiness for all high school graduates.

This is the first in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce.