“Plant Seeds, and They are Soon to Sprout”: Lessons from Rutherford Works

by Matthew Roberts, Pathways TN

This summer, a group of 50 rising seniors took part in a four-week long internship program designed to teach them the real-world skills and competencies needed for success in the workplace. This internship program was developed in partnership through Rutherford Works, a local economic and workforce development initiative housed at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce in Murfreesboro. Students from eight high schools participated in the internship program that connected them with mentors at Nissan, Bridgestone, Schwan Cosmetics, local and city governments in Rutherford County, and more. Each student worked four hours a day, Monday through Thursday, with training and postsecondary planning sessions each Friday morning. And if the valuable work experience wasn’t enough, students also earned $10 per hour. We joined up with the program during a Friday training session where students shared what they had learned and gained tips and tricks to make the transition from high school to postsecondary much easier.

One student shares what she learned at her internship.

At the heart of this internship program is the desire to prepare students with the real-world skills that employers want, and students are encouraged to share what they have learned with others in the program. The Friday session started with introductions, where students told us where they were working and one valuable skill they had learned over the past few weeks. Students at Nissan received in-depth training on machining technology, even bragging about how they learned to operate a robotic arm. Interns at Bridgestone discussed learning how to make tires. But one resounding message came through the students share outs: they were learning valuable employability skills on the job. Multiple times, students mentioned how they learned to provide exceptional customer service and the basics of phone etiquette, skills they will carry with them regardless of where they work. As students finished sharing what they had learned through their internships that week, a past intern, Ryan Pierce, offered advice to keep in mind as they finish the program. Ryan’s advice not only came from the lessons he learned during his internship, but it also was influenced by his experience meeting with other high school interns and the Secretary of Labor in Washington, D.C., as a part of Workforce Week in June 2017. His words of wisdom?

Make connections, and build relationships,” Pierce explained. “Plant seeds, and they are soon to sprout.

Rutherford Works knows, however, that this real-world experience is a valuable component of a larger puzzle. A student’s future success requires the right combination of education and experience. But to get the right postsecondary credential, many students need help with the transition that comes after high school. That’s why during the Friday session we attended, these rising seniors received a crash course on financing their postsecondary education from Jason Seay at the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. Regardless of where students go to school, the advice is the same: fill out the FAFSA soon after it opens on October 1 and remember to apply for Tennessee Promise by November 1, no matter what your plans for postsecondary include.

Beth Duffield, senior vice president of education and workforce development at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, explains, “We must do more to help students navigate through career and college choices. This can’t be one assembly in their senior year. This work has to be intentional so that we don’t have students falling through the cracks.” Intentional planning and preparation, starting in middle school, are a key component of the Pathways Tennessee framework.

For more information on Pathways TN and ways you can help students prepare for careers in their communities,visit PathwaysTN.org, email Matthew.A.Roberts@tn.gov, and follow @Pathways_TN on Twitter.