Sonoco signs, celebrates seven graduates of Tiger Launch
Special to the Enquirer
Sonoco Reels & Plugs has marked another milestone in its quest to enhance manufacturing workforce development by employing and training students eager to launch rewarding careers.
The company recently celebrated seven high school seniors who excelled in the Tiger Launch program as they “signed on” for full-time positions at Sonoco.
The 2020 Tiger Launch Graduation Signing Ceremony was held May 12 at Sonoco’s Tiger Launch facility in Hartselle.
Tiger Launch is an apprenticeship-style program begun fall 2018 in partnership with Hartselle City Schools. The eight-student program grew to 24 students in fall 2019 and is expected to welcome about 40 for the coming school year.
The 2020 graduates who have accepted post-graduation positions at Sonoco are Briten Barclay, Wesley Long, Weston Philpot, Caleb Puckett, Thomas Prus, Levi Rice and Daniel Sandlin. The signing ceremony made their continued employment at Sonoco official as they take on new, full-time roles and begin mentoring others.
Sonoco leaders, including plant managers Matt Williams and Todd Whatley, superintendent Doug Ainsworth and Tiger Launch manager Richard Long, gathered with the seven graduates for the ceremony. They were joined by HCS Superintendent Dr. Dee Dee Jones, who serves as Tiger Launch program manager, as well as Jeff Hyche, a career tech instructional planner and former principal of Hartselle High.
Ten other seniors who participated in the program this year are taking what they learned at Sonoco with them to college and other opportunities.
During half days at school and half days at Sonoco, the largest industrial employer in Hartselle, Tiger Launch students completed coursework while getting hands-on manufacturing experience in producing reels, spools and other industrial products.
The program was modeled after “12 for Life,” an initiative started by Southwire, one of Sonoco Reels & Plugs’ biggest customers, more than a decade ago in Florence.
“Through Tiger Launch, students get a chance to learn the discipline it takes to really be successful in the workplace. At the same time, we gain an opportunity to understand our incoming workforce and how we can apply our learning to facility processes and improvements,” Williams said.
“When the program started, the unemployment rate in our area was very low,” Long added. “Tiger Launch allowed us to pick out ‘the cream of the crop’ and give kids a great opportunity to make a contribution to Sonoco and the community we work in. Originally, all the students came from Hartselle High School. Now Morgan County has joined us with kids from both Danville and Brewer high schools. For the upcoming school year, we also plan to welcome Falkville and Priceville High School students.”
Long said the growth and success of Tiger Launch has depended greatly on Sonoco management’s dedication to the program.
“Without their willingness to be all in, it never would have worked,” Long said. “You have to believe that if you do the right thing for students and the community, the break–even point and financial benefits will come.
“Giving students resume experience and the opportunity to learn work skills is great for them and for the company, whether they stay with Sonoco or not.”
One student, Courtney Shaddrix, was considering becoming a pediatric nurse, but she jumped at the chance to get the workplace experience Tiger Launch offered.
“I found I really liked building fiber drum reels, doing reel hardware kitting, working with my hands and learning about the business aspects of a company from the inside out,” she said. “Not only did I get to know what a real-world working experience is like, I was also able to build relationships with people who will be friends and supporters for life.”
Now, a year after she graduated from the program, Shaddrix is line lead and a guiding force in Sonoco’s Tiger Launch facility. “This has been a really eye-opening experience for me and a lot of other students,” Shaddrix said, “and we really appreciate everything it has done for us.”
“I felt so bad for graduating seniors this year with everything that has happened. We were more excited than ever to be able to reward them for the opportunity they have created for themselves through hard work at Sonoco,” Long said. “Going forward, we can’t wait to develop more workplace relationships with the younger people we need to continue our company’s lasting legacy of success in north Alabama.”
What’s Next for Tiger Launch Grads?
Daniel Sandlin – continuing with Sonoco Tiger Launch as a forklift operator
Caleb Puckett – continuing with Sonoco Tiger Launch as a mentor while starting college
Weston Philpot, Levi Rice and Wesley Long – staying full-time with Sonoco at the Metco plant in
Briten Barclay and Thomas Prus – working with Sonoco in the FAME Program