SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Students in Sullivan County will now have the opportunity to benefit from industrial workplace learning programs following a school board vote Monday.

The board approved three memorandums of understanding with Eastman, J.A. Street, and Northeast State Community College. These partnerships established workplace learning programs for high schoolers to participate in and possibly transition into full-time work at the end of the program.

Officials said the goal is to retain local talent as industries continue to grow in the region’s largest county.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to go into the workplace learning programs and to get their industrial certifications,” Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said. “So we are extremely excited that J.A. Street and Eastman want to be partners with us and work with us to help our students.”

Each of the three agreements with the school system serves a purpose: Northeast State will provide instructors and instructional material to the tune of $5,000 for the upcoming academic year, during which students will receive industry-specific training and obtain the required certifications in the industrial field of their choice.

Eastman will pay students $15 per hour to work in a pre-apprentice capacity in the plant in Kingsport. Similarly, J.A. Street and Associates will offer students the opportunity to work for the company full-time following the student’s completion of the pre-apprenticeship program and the necessary training.

“Previously, we had this program going, but it wasn’t [Department of Labor] certified, and we weren’t always using the [National Convention for Construction and Reform] curriculum. So the NCCR curriculum is a nationally recognized curriculum in construction,” said James Osborne, safety and quality director of J.A. Street & Associates. “So people that go through the program and finish it will come out with an NCCR certification, and then they also will get the Department of Labor Certification as well for the apprenticeship.”

Students participating in J.A. Street’s program will attend a weekly two-hour class at the RCAM in Kingsport.

The goal is to keep a talented local workforce in the region, but Osborne said the certifications students will receive will benefit them even if they move.

“The thought process behind it is to bring in students between the ages of 16 and 18, get them started with the company, get them immersed in our program,” he said.

The same principle counts for the program agreement with Eastman.

“Eastman continues to innovate and grow. We need a highly-skilled, talented, and broadly diverse workforce,” said Jeff Fain, Director of Manufacturing Workforce Development for Eastman. “So these programs are great to partner with schools to allow students who are interested in careers to work with and work together within a plant and get real-life experience.”

Fain explained that the program had been implemented before as part of an agreement with Kingsport City Schools and was successful.

“You can come directly from high school, or one or two years of college, directly integrate career fields in advanced manufacturing and have the opportunity three to four years out of school to earn a salary and career upwards of $50,000 a year,” Fain said. “So it gives real-life skills. They work on value-adding roles, and it gives them a head start on learning about manufacturing.”

Another of the program’s goals is to help the local industry grow.

“We believe investing in our students in our region is important for our growth and our company and our innovation. So we’d love to see this continue to grow,” Fain said.

Roughly 50 students are permitted to enroll in the program per academic year.

“Our goal is to continue expanding this over the next two, three years,” Fain said. “We’ve been very pleased with our pilot program. We had six students from Dobyns-Bennett High School, and the feedback we’ve got from the students and from the manufacturing side is it was hugely successful. They gain relevant skills and some of them were interested in continuing their careers.”

Osborne added that working in construction may have stereotypical stigmas attached to the industry, but as a man who has worked in the field his whole life, he said it would be a great opportunity for young people looking to select a good-paying job.

“Construction is always around, and it’s a very good support for a family,” he said.

The programs will begin this fall and will continue through the next academic fiscal year.