Innovative Programs Prepare Workers for High-Demand Jobs

Aligning jobs with workers who possess the skills to succeed is a challenge that calls for solutions from K-12 and postsecondary systems and employers. 

“Our company, and I would think other large companies, are willing to work with states to expose students while they are still in high school to what the full range of careers out there look like,” said Tom Plath, vice president of human resources for International Paper. He believes that the private sector could offer a lot to such a program, but that it would need to be orchestrated by state officials. 

“It is really important that 13- to 17-year olds see what manufacturing looks like today. It isn’t what most people assume. We have good jobs--our hourly workforce’s average annual salary is $70,000.”

Plath says too few students today are interested in what he called skilled crafts. They have not had the necessary exposure. 

“Kids no longer spend hours working in their garages with motors and other mechanics. They don’t get their hands dirty,” he observed.  

Plath will be the luncheon keynote speaker at an education and workforce development policy academy Dec. 10 during the CSG 2015 National Conference in Nashville, Tenn. The policy academy will look at ways to create career pathways and develop innovative postsecondary programs to help students prepare for success in the high-demand jobs industry is filling today.  

Attendees will hear about the new Tennessee Promise initiative to offer free community college using state lottery funds, which started with the graduating high school class of 2015. Through the program, the state pays any tuition costs after students apply any scholarships or grants to their tuition. Currently Oregon is the only other state with free community college. 

Another innovative program to be featured during the policy academy is the partnership between UPS and the University of Louisville and the local community and technical college to provide paid tuition—up to the full-time undergraduate, in-state rate—while students work the third shift part-time as UPS package handlers. Students also receive bonuses for academic progress and book reimbursement money. The goal of the Metropolitan College Program is to allow UPS employees to earn a college degree debt-free. 

A sweet spot for collaboration between the private and public sectors, according to Plath, is to ensure that community colleges expose students to a wide range of experiences and career possibilities. 

 “Our job is to make their world big.”