Southwire – A Company Proactive About Education

There is no shortage of articles and news postings about corporate America bemoaning how current high school and college students seem ill prepared to enter the workforce and participate affectively. To help address this issue corporations have stepped up their giving for educational purposes with 2012 being a year of unparalled donations in cash and noncash items. In 2013 education was still a top priority for corporate donations with schools receiving over 1.2 billion dollars in corporate aid. Have these donations hit the mark and made a difference? Most of corporate America will say no, as the high school graduation rate in our country ranks 22nd out of the 28 developed countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This frustration prompted Southwire Company, a closely held manufacturer of electrical cables near Atlanta, to develop their own program to hire at risk high school students and develop in house education programs for them.

Initially the local school district was cool to the ideas Southwire proposed and they suggested increased monetary donations would be better but Southwire responded that course of action had been tried and it was clearly not working. Mike Wiggins, a retired Southwire executive who runs the program for troubled teens, knew a change in strategy was necessary. Southwire’s program has grown from 69 students in 2007 to 250 students in 2014 and the local high school graduation rate has grown from 56% to 77% being pushed up by Southwire participants. The youth involved in Southwire’s program are paid $9.00 an hour, above minimum wage, to work at the company’s factory and learn hands on job skills. Summer-school classes are held on site but during the school year students have the option to attend classes at their regular high school. Many students gravitate to the classes held at Southwire because they have developed a curriculum that builds on what the students learn on the factory floor. This helps bring abstract concepts to life and makes them easier to understand.

Southwire is excited with the positive affects and growth of the program. Their initial investment of $3 million has paid off and the program is not only paying for itself but also generating a small profit for the company. This has been a win for Southwire, the community and most importantly the students involved. It is also worth noting that 40% of the program’s participants go on to pursue higher education goals and 18% accept full-time jobs with Southwire. Do you know of a local company or could your employer be the next Southwire in your community? If we do not ask and take a proactive stance for our youth then nothing will change.

 

The following are comments by participants of the Southwire program:

 

Ms. Daniel (onetime high school dropout) – “I didn’t really care about school or the situation I was in. The program changed me. I’ve grown up.”

Ms. Henderson (suspended for drinking alcohol at school) – “The program provides a much better learning environment than her old school. Discipline is strict, and the program’s applied-learning approach helps keep the students engaged. You learn why you’re learning.”

Mr. Rodriguez (18-year-old son of immigrants) – “That’s one reason I like being here – because I’m at school and I’m making a bit of money too. We’ve had hard times in our family.” This prompted older siblings to drop out of school to earn money but due to lack of education they have been unable to find good jobs. “I really want to graduate,” Mr. Rodriguez adds. “The diploma is the only way out.”

 

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