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Opinion | Programs provide students with skills for life


Ten years ago, a unique partnership began between Southwire, a participant in the Alabama Workforce Council, and the Florence City School System. Since that time, the impact this initiative has had on our students, and our school system, has been nothing short of phenomenal.

In 2009, Southwire saw a need in our community. Students were dropping out of school. Some were leaving school because they had no direction or guidance, while others were leaving just to get a paycheck for themselves and/or their families. To combat this negative trend, the team at Southwire approached school officials with an idea to implement a program that originated at its facility in Carroll County Georgia.

12 for Life was founded on the principle that if students completed high school and learned productive qualities, such as work ethic, teamwork and effective decision-making skills, then their opportunities for achieving success – whether entering college or going into a career placement – would be maximized. During school, students participate in a soft-skills program, Ready-to-Work and coursework from the Manufacturing Skills Standards Curriculum. At Southwire, students are paired with a mentor, given job coaching and work an actual four-hour-a-day job. These attributes of the program will enable the participants to gain credentials to be part of the extra 500,000+ highly-skilled workers that Alabama needs by 2025, as identified in the AlabamaWorks Success Plus initiative.

The students selected for 12 for Life must be at least 16 years old and be identified as having a need, whether that be monetarily, socially, emotionally or behaviorally. All students in the program are required to attend summer school in order to complete core classes where they can qualify for work shifts during the day. School counselors gather data related to factors such as free/reduced lunch status, discipline, credit deficiency or declining attendance. Next, the students participate in an interview process to determine interest and four-hour shift eligibility.

Many participants also refer their friends. During any given time, as many as 200 students are placed on the waiting list for the program, which accepts 100 students per year. This creates a solid pipeline that may lead to permanent employment at the company.

While at Southwire, students earn a competitive hourly wage, along with significant monetary bonus opportunities. Thesereinforcement incentives are extremely effective tools for changing negative behavior patterns and conditioning students to consistently display positive actions. Bonuses can be earned for maintaining an A or a B grade-point average and for achieving perfect attendance during the nine-week grading period. These incentives have served as catalysts for modifying negative attendance patterns and significantly elevating student performance in all areas.

Of course, the validation of any initiative’s success will always be determined by the results. The 12 for Life participant group averages a reduction of 134 days of absenteeism compared to the previous year prior to entering the program. This means that the group is present in school for 134 more days compared to when they were not in the program.

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We have also achieved a tremendous increase in our graduation rate since the start of the program. In 2009, the graduation rate for the Florence City School System was 68%. In 2018, it had risen to 97%. For the seventh consecutive year, participants in 12 for Life have achieved a 100% graduation rate.

These outcomes have also garnered interest from other companies, like Elite Medical and Toyota, to launch similar programs with Florence schools.

By investing in our young people, we all reap the benefits of what they can and will do as productive members of our society. With programs such as 12 for Life, our future and that of our state, will grow and prosper for many years to come.

To learn more about this program, contact Dr. Behel at [email protected]. You can also visit to find training and workforce development initiatives for people of all ages.


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