Lenoir City High School expands work program

Daniel Byerly, from left, Thomas Haskell and Tommy Slaton work on circuit boards in their mechatronics class. Like other Career and Technical Education courses, mechatronics can serve as a strong student background to entice employers to reach out through the Hire a Panther program.

Local businesses can now hire Lenoir City High School students through a link that leads employers to a short Google application.

Employers fill out a quick application that highlights what they are looking for in future employees.

The new application, Hire a Panther, is part of expanding the school’s work-based learning program, Sandra Towns, work-based learning coordinator, said.

Towns adopted the employer outsourcing idea from a Maryville High School teacher.

“I’m thinking, ‘That is so easy, so simple’,” she said. “It’s user-friendly. I feel like with an employer, if they call the school, then they get transferred … those people are trying to run a business. This, they can go to their HR person and say, ‘Click this button, fill out this form and let’s see what kind of feedback we get.’ That is really all this is. It’s not tied to the internship or any of those things, but I hope this could be a springboard to other things.”

The work-based approach allows students to receive course credit for working during the school day as part of the Career and Technical Education program. Hire a Panther would allow local employers to easily seek students.

“Also, it’s just a community service for the high school,” Towns said. “I’m always very cognizant of this because what I do is I do organizational paperwork for kids who are in work-based learning. That takes several different faces. Some of the kids are literally coming to school, leaving last block and going to work, kind of like a co-op. Some of them are doing the clinicals. I have interns that go to a vet clinic. … Anytime I’m setting up something, I’m trying to think long term, like, ‘What could this look like on down the road?’”

After employers fill out the form, Towns will notify teachers of the opportunity. Students then apply for the jobs and receive recommendations.

Landing the job allows Towns to also check in on students and receive feedback on job performance as part of the course.

“We want the work-based learning program to grow more than it is right now,” she said. “We want it to grow into more internships for students and not only students who leave at 2 p.m. to go to work, although that’s very valuable, but I would like to see some other things, so maybe this would help with that.”

Hire a Panther emphasizes CTE program areas from agriculture to law to retail. Towns believes the real-life experience will help students hone in on “soft skills,” like customer service, clear communication and flexibility.

“We are working on improving our work-based learning experiences for our students,” Mark Weeks, LCHS assistant principal and CTE director, said. “Hopefully, the Hire a Panther program will provide an avenue to connect our students with local businesses and industries. This will benefit both students in providing work experience and employers who are facing hiring shortages in the area.” Though students gain personal experience while building up credit hours, LCHS Principal Chip Orr believes businesses can make an early investment.

“One of the things that we’ve been trying to do through our work-based learning program in particular is we want our kids to have some exposure to what’s going on in local businesses and things in our own community,” Orr said. “For one, it’s good for our students just to have that experience. That’s the most important thing from our perspective. I also think that some of the industries in our area and local businesses are maybe missing out on a feeder program, if you will, of very employable people down the road. I know they’re kids now, and some people are reluctant in some instances to not hire somebody unless they’re 18 years or older, but we’ve got some really bright kids here. Hard workers, good ethics and values.

“If I were a business owner, I’d want to tap into that now because you’ve got somebody that could be the future of your business possibly down the road,” he added. “To us, I think it’s a great experience to our kids, but I also think it’s something that our businesses could reap the benefits from.” For more information about Hire a Panther, visit www.lchs.lenoir cityschools.com.