The Blog of Bill Gates: Manufacturing Opportunity

Manufacturing opportunity

This auto parts maker is producing great results for Tennessee students.

I had come to Gestamp, a leading employer in East Tennessee, to learn about their student apprenticeship program. Launched in 2016, the program is a partnership with the local school system that offers students hands-on training in manufacturing while also helping them complete their high school diplomas.

Apprenticeship programs like this are a win-win both for the school system and for the local business community. For the school system, it helps students make important connections between their coursework and careers. What was exciting to see is how the experience working for Gestamp often gave students a new sense of purpose. This might be the program’s greatest achievement. All the students I met told me they had much bigger dreams for themselves and what they might achieve in life than they might have otherwise. Some are eager to work their way up at Gestamp and become managers. Others now have an interest in going to college or pursuing other post-secondary training.

For local businesses, the program is an important model for how partnering with local schools can help support the local economy. Tennessee has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, thanks in part to the auto manufacturing sector. General Motors, Volkswagen, Nissan, and more than 900 auto suppliers all call Tennessee home, employing more than 130,000 people.

But the economy faces a skills gap. Many businesses struggle to find skilled workers to fill jobs. According to one study, in the years ahead over 80 percent of jobs paying a living wage in the Chattanooga area will require a post-secondary certificate or degree, but currently only 35 percent of students in the region are likely to obtain this level of education.

Gestamp is one of many companies in the Chattanooga region joining forces with the school system and community leaders to support Chattanooga 2.0, an organization working to double the number of college degrees and certificates awarded to high school graduates.

During my trip to Chattanooga, I also visited The Howard School where I learned about the Future Ready Institutes, which expose students to career pathways in health care, tourism, and other local industries. Students visit local businesses for training, get some work experience, and meet with professionals in their field.

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