Since January, two interns — Savannah Leachman and Brianna Summers — have held down the front desk at the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce. Though they did answer phones and make copies like many office interns, they also were able to take on some marketing and invoicing responsibilities as they assisted chamber staff.
“Well we actually assign projects to them, not full projects, but parts of projects that we would typically do ourselves,” said chamber CFO and Executive Assistant Kathy Hall. “... For big projects and big parts of the projects, the normal staff works on that, but they are definitely great support for all of our project work. ... Most of their work is meaningful.”
Leachman said she originally looked at a health care pathway at the career academy, but after a few classes, she realized the field was not a good fit for her and she switched to business.
“It’s different. It was very, very different, especially with having economic development and the chamber, so you’re kind of getting a feel for both because, I mean, at lunch you get to hear stories from both sides,” Leachman said “I enjoy working more with experienced adults than I do being in high school. I wouldn’t have traded the internship for nothing because I enjoyed it that much.”
By contrast, Summers said the marketing pathway she took at the career academy reaffirmed her desire to get into the marketing field. Working with the chamber and Cartersville-Bartow County Economic Development staff will give her a leg up, she believed.
“I loved working here, getting to work with all the people at the chamber and, like she said, with economic development. It also helps with them knowing we’re going into college and just graduating. They’re telling us advice that we really benefit from. Like, there’s always advice around the corner. They’ve told us that we didn’t — like Melinda [Lemmon] told me about a test for marketing that I had never even heard of that I should take, and so that’s good information to know for the future,” Summers said.
Both interns were paid during their stay at the chamber, which they said was an added bonus on top of building their workplace experience. Leachman said she is going to attend Georgia Highlands College with a focus on accounting, while Summers plans to attend Kennesaw State University and continue with marketing. They both said their experiences with BCCCA were positive.
“I finished my marketing pathway and it just kind of opened my eyes to what it really does,” Summers said. “Like the first few classes just kind of gave you all the vocabulary words to memorize and then the advanced marketing class really taught you what you’re supposed to do, and so it made me really kind of fall in love with it more, make me want to continue it in college.”
“Yeah. I started in health care and then I didn’t enjoy health care, so it helped me know that’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I switched to business,” Leachman said.
After school resumes across the county this month, Hall said the chamber was planning to interview additional students and take part in the internship program again.
“Hopefully we’ll have a new intern starting part time at the beginning of September. That’s the plan right now,” she said.
Toward the north end of Bartow County a different program is taking place — one that has only been in operation for approximately two months. Beaulieu Commercial has partnered with the BCCCA, the Great Promise Partnership and Adairsville High School in order to get students out into the workforce before they have even graduated high school.
Director of Operations Chris Turner said the intention is to show students the relevance of their schooling in order to spur them toward getting a diploma.
A pilot program with four students is still underway, with additional aspects such as mentoring and life skills training to be added once school begins.
The work-based learning program, Turner said, came from a tour earlier this year when the chamber of commerce and BCCCA officials invited business leaders to tour other businesses in the state where work-based learning had been implemented. Turner said he volunteered to take on a partnership at the Beaulieu plant.
“We are the first partnership. It’s not really a scholarship. It’s a true partnership where there’s some structure that’s provided through the GPP program and then the school system provides, obviously, the students and transportation, and then we are an employer and what we provide is employment opportunities. Then we leverage our employees and our resources that we will do life skills training,” Turner said. “... Then every student has an assigned mentor, so that person has got somebody that they’ll spend time with every week talking about whatever they want to talk about to a typically mentor relationship.
“So that gets started with us when school gets started back next week. So this summer we’ve had them getting oriented to the work environment, the schedules, the jobs, and then we’ll add those other layers as we work into the school year.”
Four AHS students are in the work-based learning program: senior Dustin Knight, junior Ryan Amos, junior Brandon James and junior Aulbrey Baldwin. All four work in packaging various carpet products at the plant, such as carpet tiles or samples.
“We’ve got a program we’re going through, work-based learning,” Knight said. “We’ll leave at 12 o’clock and go to work, and the classes we miss we still get credit for.”
Throughout the first two months of the program the students have worked a typical 40-hour workweek from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Getting paid for the work is appealing, said Baldwin.
“It feels pretty good. It gets money in our pocket and it gets you an early start and experiencing what the workforce is like,” he said.
As they are minors, state law bars the AHS students from being involved in the manufacturing process itself, as well as working with hydraulics, lifters and other machines. Once the company determined what the students could not do, Turner said, it was a matter of consolidating what they could do.
“The list of no-nos, the list of things students can’t do, or I should say minors under  can’t do, it might be daunting when you look at it, but you know poultry processing, things like that, you’ve got blades and knives, but those don’t apply to us,” he said. “So for us it was pretty straightforward. What we looked at was how do we consolidate tasks within existing jobs that steer clear of all the hazards that Georgia state law prevents minors from doing?”
Prior to hiring Baldwin, Amos, Knight and James, Beaulieu invited their parents, as well as the parents and guardians of other students considered for the program, to the plant in order to show them where their children would be working as well as highlight the company’s corporate culture. Engagement was key, Turner believed, and since then the company has been pleased with the results.
“Fantastic, and I’ll say our everyday employees have done fantastic adopting these students into our work environment, but our students have done exceptionally well adopting the work environment,” he said. “It’s the first time they’ve ever been in an industrial setting, so they’ve done extremely well. So I’m very pleased with the success that they’ve had this summer getting that started so that the work piece is taken care of before they go back to school and we start adding the other components of the program.”
Beaulieu selected AHS due to its close proximity to the plant, making it easier to transport the students to work and back. BCCCA CEO Paul Sabin said he hoped similar work-based learning initiatives would involve Cass and Woodland high schools as well.
“Well, I guess, if you look at it this way, it’s all under the work-based learning umbrella, and we would like to be able to help facilitate getting students and businesses partnered up together where students have an opportunity for internships and employers have an opportunity to seek our potential employees,” Sabin said. “I would like to see the college and career academy be a kind of touch-point for the industry, and then, if we don’t have students here who would fit that bill, then for us to seek out those students at our base high schools.
“... I don’t think we can understate the importance of having industry and business connected to our students and their career pathway. We know students are much more likely to graduate if they see relevance in the work that they’re doing in high school, and the relevance is how they apply that to their future careers.”