Written by: Cheryl Garrison

    Businesses face a lack of available talent with the skills needed to meet ever-evolving employment demands. Unemployment and labor force participation rates are low. Continuing workforce challenges require creative solutions. LaunchGVL is one such solution.

    LaunchGVL connects business, industry, education, and youth. LaunchGVL was born in 2017 when a Greenville County Schools (GCS) high school principal approached Greenville Chamber leadership about facilitating connections between area businesses and students. LaunchGVL operationalizes this concept across sixteen Greenville County high schools, four career centers, and adult education.

    LaunchGVL is part of Greenville County School’s work-based learning (WBL) continuum. WBL provides work experience integrated with identified core academic coursework, career and technical education curricula, or electives to support strong secondary and postsecondary education opportunities. WBL encompasses internships, co-ops, youth apprenticeships and registered apprenticeships. Students enhance their knowledge, technical skills, and 21st century work skills through participation in supervised, paid, work-based learning experiences that are not possible to replicate inside classroom walls, preparing them to enter the workforce, military, and/or pursue postsecondary education.

    LaunchGVL, while young, is gaining brand recognition. Youth economic mobility and post-secondary skill development is improved through paid WBL opportunities. The LaunchGVL website provides easy access for business to engage and for students and parents to view positions. Once registered, companies complete paperwork with Greenville County Schools. Recruitment of students takes place year-round with interviews held several times throughout the year.

    According to Forbes Magazine (and Pew Research), today’s young adults (between the ages of 15-21) are the least work-connected generation in decades. They are  much less likely to have had a paid summer job or to have been employed in the last year compared to every previous generation for which data exists. Students need to connect earlier with employers to ensure successful engagement in and completion of their high school education. This positions the student for additional success as they launch their educational or career journeys.

    The Greenville Chamber’s vision is of a globally competitive Upstate economy where businesses succeed and people prosper. Despite the affluence and economic opportunities in Greenville, too many of our citizens are not enjoying prosperity. This year in Greenville County Schools, 59.8% of students are pupils in poverty. Let that statistic sink in. To break poverty cycles and increase labor force participation rates, businesses, education entities, and citizens need to find new ways to engage and LaunchGVL is one such option.

    Economic mobility is a clearly identified issue in Greenville County as presented by Raj Chetty’s Equality of Opportunity Project. This national study found that a child born in Greenville County to the bottom quintile of family income has only a 4.7% chance of reaching the top quintile. For a black child, that chance is less, only a 2.9% chance, and for a black male, it is even less with only a 1.9%. Young people beginning their lives in poverty in Greenville have a much more difficult time in reaching economic parity with the mainstream. The development of post-secondary skills can help mitigate this disparity.

    LaunchGVL directly helps students network with business/industry representatives, increasing their social capital. All LaunchGVL experiences are paid. Many high school students must work to meet financial needs. Participants are often able to continue work with their placement companies after high school and, sometimes, during college and beyond. Furthermore, employers are increasingly seeking new hires that have this valuable experience.

    For the student, WBL strengthens career awareness, workplace readiness, and personal development. Experiences are structured to give the student extensive practice in applying fundamental technical and practical knowledge as well as developing skills needed to create a career mindset for a lifetime of growth and development. Former LaunchGVL students recently shared the impact the program had in their lives.

    “I learned many skills I wouldn’t have anywhere else. Experience is the best teacher.” Chloe Penaflor

    “I will never forget the experience and how amazing it was to feel a part of something larger than myself.” Jay Smith

    “I help conduct research, do reports and spreadsheets and graphics for the effluent flows for the facility systems. The different responsibilities at ReWa as the Business Continuity Services Intern have helped me learn how to be an adult and having those social skills is something I can definitely take with me into my career as a climate change analyst”. Kennedy Williams

    For employers, connecting with students early allow them to train their future workforce today, create a pipeline of talent, to help meet current and future employment needs.

    “We have 6 students, 4 in production working with CNC machines and the other 2 are in maintenance. We have been impressed with all the students and highly recommend other companies get involved with the program”. Dan Martin, plant manager at ABB Mechanical Power Transmission

    LaunchGVL has grown steadily with 68 companies hiring 193 students since summer 2018. Several students have been hired full-time upon graduation while others have continued employment long-term. We track wages earned by students and are putting systems in place to follow students long-term to determine impact.

    The Greenville Chamber Foundation supports students, employers, and the education process by removing barriers to employment. Generous grants have been received from Bank of America, Truist, and United Way. Accelerate (Greenville Chamber’s private sector-fueled economic development initiative) supports LaunchGVL as a key component of its talent and workforce strategy.

    This year, two Greenville Chamber programs began a new partnership.  LaunchGVL and Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) graduate companies have come together to give Opportunity Youth the chance to connect with minority, women, and veteran owned businesses to create both employment and mentorship opportunities. We are excited about the positive outcomes this new initiative within LaunchGVL is providing.

    The goal is to grow both student and employer participation in LaunchGVL. WBL is a heavy lift for all involved, but the impact is well worth the investment. By continuing to connect business and non-profits with students, we have a unique opportunity to create an ecosystem of on the job learning that begins in high school and extends to college and beyond.

    We encourage all businesses in the region to consider providing an opportunity now for their future workforce.  To learn more about LaunchGVL, go to www.launchgvl.org or contact Dr. Cheryl Garrison at cgarrison@greenvillechamber.org.  Be a part of growing a greater Greenville through LaunchGVL.