View original document

The full text on this page is automatically extracted from the file linked above and may contain errors and inconsistencies.







A Promising Approach: Improving Graduation Rates and Building a Better Workforce



January 2015
Marysol McGee: Welcome to the Federal Reserve's Economic Development podcast series. I'm Marysol McGee, community development analyst at the
Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
At face value, a community's high school graduation rate may seem to be outside the scope of local economic development strategy. However, research
shows this issue has been bearing on labor force participation rates and the economic vitality of communities. Indeed, both the rate of participation and
quality of the local labor force are increasingly important in a firm’s decisions to remain or locate in a particular community.

Some communities have recognized this and have implemented programs that bring together the business and education
sectors to improve students' outcomes. The Great Promise Partnership program in Georgia is one such innovative program
that works with youth at risk of not graduating to offer job experience and pay alongside academic credit and other life and
soft skills.
We're speaking today to Mike Beatty, president and CEO of Great Promise Partnership, and Mike Wiggins, the recently retired
former executive vice president of human resources at Southwire Company. Welcome, gentlemen.
Mike Beatty

Mike Beatty, can you tell us about the Great Promise Partnership that grew out of the 12 for Life program? Specifically, what
jump-started the initiative, and what are the key elements that contribute to its success?
Mike Beatty: We saw a clear need for a well-trained workforce and for a ladder to help our Great Promise youth, our at-risk
youth. And we were working with communities, I had a chance to visit Southwire—the key element was a company's
commitment to a community. Southwire had put together a process where they were working with these at-risk youth—they
were going to school part of the day—they partnered with the school system in the community. And as I looked at what they
were doing and saw the fact that it was really win-win, not only do you save the kids from dropping out of school, but you also
have a process that’s very profitable for a company. And I really believe for this to be sustainable long term, it's got to be win-

Mike Wiggins

win for the community. And, of course, the other element was the need for a trained, motivated workforce.

The 12 for Life process is proven to help you graduate, go to college, join the military, or work full-time. And what we looked at was how we could
replicate that, how we could scale that.
McGee: We know that workforce development is most successful when it's highly collaborative across sectors. Mike, who are the key partners involved
in this program, and what are the recommendations for how to create strong community alliances like this one?
Beatty: What we saw was really four cornerstones that you've got to have to make this work. You’ve got to have the local political leadership. You have
to have that bottom-up, locally driven approach through the local political leaders—the city hall and the county government. Also, you've got to have the
school system that's flexible. One of the things that's so important is you have got to have that ability for the young person to leave school to get credit for
working. Also, you've got to have the business community. And it's got to be win-win.
What we saw with both public and private enterprise and improvement on the bottom line is as you work with these highly productive youth on a shortshift concept where sometimes they're 25 to 30 percent more productive than adults. And you also have to have the faith-based community, the Boys
and Girls Clubs, you've got to pull those four cornerstones together. We also put together a designation called "marquee community" that if you pulled all
that together, if you helped a certain number of youth succeed, then you have a state-wide designation. And not only will they get recognition, but there’ll
also be incentives from different state agencies and federal agencies for that community stepping up.
McGee: Mike Wiggins, your company represents one of the largest employers in your community. Why was the creation of 12 for Life important to your
Mike Wiggins: Let me begin with our commitment to education. Our first serious move in that direction was the proclamation that we would not hire any
person for any job at Southwire Company who did not have either a high school education or a GED. In the rural communities in which we operate
across the country, that really shook the foundation. But we said, anybody who works for us today is grandfathered, nobody's going to lose their job, and
our intent is to make things better on a go-forward basis.
When we made that decision that any person that we hired had to have either a high school education or a GED to even fill out an application, little did
we know at the time that was an incredibly major decision. It was OK when the economy was going great and we were growing, and we experienced
business conditions like that for a number of years, but that doesn't last forever. In 2005 other businesses were coming into town—a great thing, the
town, the community, the county was growing. But we began to be worried about getting an appropriate, adequate applicant pool from which to hire
people. We had to look back at all that we had done, and we even had discussions of dropping that requirement for a high school education or a GED,
but we said we believe that it has been successful, we believe that it has been instrumental in keeping some kids in school, and it’s the right thing to do.

Along the way we had created an initiative in our county called Carroll Tomorrow that was about a visionary look at our county and our population. And so
that became a rallying cry for the entire area. And we were instrumental in funding that and being a driver in that whole process.
So we had a problem with making sure that we had an adequate applicant pool, and we had to take another look in order to assure that we could
continue to grow in our home community. We got all the political leaders together and said, "We've got work to do. We're not happy with the dropout
rate." So we held meetings with our family shareholders, and meeting with our board of directors, and meeting with the CEO to zero in on exactly what
we wanted to do. Getting the school superintendent and the principals was an easy task because they had a problem and they didn't have the resources
to manage that problem and to properly address that problem. So getting them on board was an easy thing.
So from March of 2006 until January of 2007, we bought a building, revamped and refitted the building to accommodate wire-making or wire-handling
equipment. Then we started looking around for jobs that could be done in that facility and what equipment would be required.
But to reemphasize one more thing: what were the opportunities in our community? If we were going to grow there, if Southwire—being one of the
largest employers in the county—if we were going to grow in our home community, an adequate, trained, and educated workforce was absolutely critical
to our future. This became a major piece of strategy for the company and decision making on what we must do in order to grow.
McGee: You mentioned data. What are the evaluation metrics you are using to track the program's success, and can you share how the program has
performed against those metrics since its inception?
Wiggins: I would approach that from two directions. One, from the education perspective, and then from the business perspective. From the education
perspective, the measures that we track, number one is the graduation rate. Also, we now have 40 percent of our graduates who go on to postsecondary
More importantly, and I think the greatest measure of our success is the dropout rate for economically disadvantaged kids. It was 45 percent. Today that
graduation rate is 79 percent. We've also hired quite a number of those graduates and they are productive employees at Southwire today, so that is
another critical piece of what we’ve been able to accomplish.
On the business side, in addition to creating that applicant pool and having a trained, skilled workforce in the jobs that we utilize, we've incorporated
much of our learnings into our total hiring process. For example, preemployment testing and evaluation—today it's an evaluation of the soft skills.
McGee: For communities considering replication of similar programs, what are some of the major challenges and opportunities in developing and
implementing such an approach?
Beatty: From our standpoint it's really key to get the leadership together. We actually worked out a resolution for each cornerstone and make sure
everybody understands what their role is.
Wiggins: The number one challenge for replication and moving it forward is convincing businesses.
We've had an almost continuing stream of visitors come to 12 for Life. They come in that facility and they see those kids work, and they see the activity,
they hear the activity, they look at their charts on the wall, they go into the classrooms. The second most difficult thing, I think, is to have communities
fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of this partnership that we've created between business and education.
And the schools have got costs. We've got full-time teachers and full-time county employees committed to 12 for Life. We've got very carefully selected
teachers. That's just a significant commitment that they had to find ways to fund and be able to sustain.
The schools were able to secure a grant to offer higher levels of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education at 12 for Life.
That's the reason Southwire constructed the school inside 12 for Life. What that’s enabled us to do is we run three four-hour shifts. So some kids go to
school and then they come to work; some kids go to work and then they go to school. The kids that are most at risk or the most academically
disadvantaged, they may have to go school all day and then work the evening shift.
McGee: Thank you for speaking with us today. This concludes our podcast with Mike Beatty and Mike Wiggins.
The Federal Reserve's ninth biennial Community Development Research Conference will be held in Washington, D.C., in April 2015. The conference will
address a diverse set of issues shaping community development policy and practice. More information on the agenda and the registration details are

available on the St. Louis Fed's website


For more podcasts on this topic and others, please visit the Atlanta Fed's website at If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail Thanks for listening.
Related Links on Other Sites
International Economic Development Council
Great Promise Partnership
12 for Life


Play (MP3)
International Economic Development Council
12 for Life
Great Promise Partnership