Gestamp-ing through Chattanooga: Hamilton County’s Work-Based Learning Experiences

When Kim stepped onto the campus of Hixson High School, she knew she wanted to find her passions. These passions, she hoped, would propel her to skills that would make her ready for her future career. However, her answer came in a combination of in-school and off-campus work-based learning. Kim’s school is part of Pathways Tennessee, an initiative that is creating alignment between K–12, postsecondary, and local industry to ensure students graduate with the habits, knowledge, and skills to be postsecondary and career ready.

Gestamp CNC Operator

Pathways TN is about more than preparing students for a career; it is about working with industry and regional partners to ensure that our students will be ready for the job opportunities available in their communities. Hamilton County alone is expected to add over 13,000 jobs by 2020 with many of these job vacancies expected in manufacturing. Advanced manufacturing companies in southeast Tennessee are seeking employees with more in-demand, specialized training, ranging from specific industry certifications to two-year associate degrees. The industry is changing, requiring employees to equip themselves with relevant, real-world experience and postsecondary credentials.

Enter Gestamp, an international company that focuses on the development of automotive components. Operating three facilities in the Chattanooga area, Gestamp is a champion for work-based learning and career pathways, gladly giving local students, like Kim, the needed hands-on experience to succeed in today’s economy.

Mandy Lusk, Gestamp’s work-based learning instructor, explains the manufacturing process of a vehicle component.

In its second year of operation, Gestamp’s program gives Hamilton County high school students ages 16 and older an opportunity to see first-hand how parts for Volkswagen, Mercedes, and BMW automobiles are created. Although this may seem young for students to walk onto the factory floor, the company recognizes that with the proper safety training, high school students can perform jobs once reserved for older adults, including operating machinery and performing quality assurance. Gestamp’s approach stands out in an industry that is often skeptical of student participation. Mandy Lusk, coordinator of the work-based learning program at Gestamp, explained,

Too many businesses say ‘students can’t do this,’ but that’s not true. Students can perform these jobs and do them well. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure students are ready for their future careers.

The program’s first group of around a dozen students was so successful that Gestamp will be enlarging the program to give close to 40 area students this unique opportunity beginning in fall 2017. After students graduate from high school, some are given the chance to work full time, but the learning doesn’t stop there. Gestamp has an active tuition reimbursement program and encourages its employees to explore the local Tennessee College of Applied Technology, community college, and four-year universities to earn the postsecondary credentials. Eventually, Gestamp plans to open a learning lab on its campus that supports high school students in continuing their coursework while at Gestamp.

Kim graduated from high school this May with Mandy in the audience cheering her on. But Kim’s story is not over. She was hired on full time at Gestamp and plans to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program and Tennessee Promise to earn an industry certification. Kim remarked, “It was a lot of work, but the result was worth it. I’m thankful for Mandy and the team at Gestamp for giving me this opportunity.”

If you are a local business leader, there are many ways you can be involved in Pathways TN, including industry tours and mentorship, career fairs, and speaking at local schools. To learn more about Pathways TN and how you can be involved, contact Nick Hansen at