Businesses need talented, skilled individuals, and graduates – high school or otherwise – need jobs. But how ready are they for the workforce?
Recognizing the need for better prepared workers, Troup County’s Strategic Planning Group explored what other communities were doing for workforce development and discovered that the most successful had high school, college and career academies. Before moving forward with one here, they did a bit more homework and surveyed local businesses to learn more about their current workers and what their ideal workforce looked like. From that five educational pathways emerged – healthcare, engineering, mechatronics (highly skilled aspects of manufacturing), business & marketing, and energy. As Robby Burch, Interface’s Director of Customer Care and Treasurer for THINC Academy’s Board of Directors, puts it, “If the business community built a school, this is how they would do it.”
Open to all Troup County high school students who are on track to graduate, kids spend half of their day at their base school and the other half at THINC pursuing their particular pathway. It allows the schools to offer equal opportunities for career education without the expense of a lab, classroom, materials and instructor at each school. In fact, unlike Georgia’s other college and career academies, THINC is funded outside of the Troup County school system. Space for the school was donated by West Georgia Technical College and nearly $10M was raised in both state grants and private funding from local businesses like Kia, which is providing $3M over a 5 year period. Furniture systems were donated by Bretford out of Chicago, IL, and of course, Interface carpeted the floors in a variety of styles and colors for a creative, energetic space.
But what happens at THINC is unique as well. It’s all collaboration and hands-on learning through interactive projects. Robby explains, “They’re treated like adults and are expected to understand how to regulate what they’d like to do with what they’re expected to do. Thirty percent of their grade is based on “soft” skills – showing up on time, knowing how to collaborate, being respectful – skills that are needed to succeed in a business environment.”
Ideally, students will engage with local businesses for real work experience and take advantage of dual enrollment opportunities with WGTC and graduate with both a high school diploma and a technical certification. Robby says that Interface is looking into what opportunities might be available here for high school students, as well as working with those who go on to college and bringing them back for summer internships. “We want to get in on the front end, so that we’re not taking what we can find, but getting what we need and want. It may take some companies a little longer to figure that out but we figured it out pretty quickly.”