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May 1, 2022

Newsworthy / Living the "Good Life"

Virginia school-industry partnership gives students a viable career path right out of high school.
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High school students in the BUILD Hampton Roads: Good Life Solution program meet their future employers during a recent Selection Day.
Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF CASEY ROBERTS
Photo: High school students in the BUILD Hampton Roads: Good Life Solution program meet their future employers during a recent Selection Day.
Twin brothers Yaomi Garcia-Rodriguez and Yoemi Garcia-Rodriguez are pipefitters with Newport News Shipbuilding, learning to bend, fit, and weld pipe on nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines for our nation's defense. Adam Webster is a plumbing apprentice with Warwick Mechanical Group. Kaleb Ramirez is an apprentice with Ryson International Inc., learning how to build and repair a network of spiral vertical conveyors.
These young people all obtained their positions right after high school thanks to an innovative school-industry partnership program in Virginia's Hampton Roads community.
All high school students aspire to good career opportunities, but not all students' paths lead to two- and four-year colleges. The creators of BUILD Hampton Roads: Good Life Solution, a partnership between New Horizons Career and Technical Education Center and local employers, take into account these different paths—and they aim to help students succeed in their choices.
"It is essential to give students early exposure to aligned career pathways so they and their parents can begin to explore and conceptualize the possibilities beyond the 'go to college' narrative," says Casey Roberts, executive director of New Horizons Regional Education Centers (and winner of an Impact Award from Virginia ASCD).
The program serves students interested in construction and manufacturing, public service, the automotive industry, healthcare, or human services. Courses not only train students on soft skills like communication and collaboration, but also give them the practical skills needed to get to work on day one, since industry partners helped design the curriculum. An online job portal allows companies to list job openings, and students to apply for those positions, creating an "entry-level talent pipeline that meets growing industry demand," says Roberts. He believes the K–12 pipeline is a sustainable means for employers to find their future workforce—and keep them.
"Our program is unique because it focuses on talent retention—rather than just recruitment—as the key strategy," he says.
BUILD Hampton Roads is making strong progress on that front. Since 2017, 28 employers have hired 171 graduates for full-time jobs, with 138 of them completing at least their first year on the job. That's an 81 percent annual retention rate, well above the national average of 29.9 percent for 18- to 24-year-olds.
Each May, the school hosts Selection Day, where students announce the job positions they've accepted and celebrate with friends, family, and their future employers. One recent graduate said after announcing his new position, "The future starts with me."

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