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Hartselle Enquirer
Special to the Enquirer   Representatives from Hartselle City Schools attend the AlabamaWorks! Conference Sept. 8 in Montgomery. Pictured from left to right are career tech coordinator Elisa Harris, Sonoco operations director Brian Kilpatrick, former career tech director Jeff Hyche, Hartselle High School career coach Cory Wilbanks and Hartselle superintendent Dr. Brian Clayton.

Hartselle’s Tiger Launch Program honored with AlabamaWorks! Innovator Award

Hartselle High School’s groundbreaking workforce development program, Tiger Launch, has earned a prestigious accolade for its contributions to the local economy and the state of Alabama. The program was awarded the Innovator Award by AlabamaWorks! in recognition of its outstanding performance in workforce development.  

The Innovator Awards were created to highlight people and programs across the state that take an innovative approach to solve workforce challenges and help advance Gov. Kay Ivey’s Success Plus attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025. Greg Canfield, Secretary of Commerce, and Ed Castile, Executive Director of AIDT and Deputy Secretary of Commerce, presented the awards during a ceremony at the AlabamaWorks! Conference Sept. 8 in Montgomery.  

“We are thankful for the efforts and initiatives put in place by these individuals, organizations and companies that are leading the way in workforce development across Alabama and want to recognize them for their contributions,” Castile said.
The core mission of Tiger Launch revolves around equipping high school students with practical skills and invaluable work experience while simultaneously paving the way for lucrative job opportunities immediately upon graduation. 

More than 60 high school students from region 1, encompassing Hartselle, Danville, Brewer and Decatur high schools are participating in Tiger Launch this year according to Career Tech coordinator Elisa Harris.  The program was started in 2018 by former career tech director Jeff Hyche. The inaugural program included 10 students from Hartselle High School and has grown every year to include students from other schools in the region. Harris said this is the first year there has been a waiting list to join the program. 

In partnership with local businesses, namely Sonoco and Cerrowire, Tiger Launch allows participating students not only to earn a paycheck but also to gain real-world job experience in sectors that are critical to the local economy. 

Students involved in Tiger Launch are given the opportunity to engage in part-time work at these businesses, honing their skills and building a foundation for their future careers. This hands-on experience has proven to be invaluable, as many students receive job offers even before they receive their high school diplomas. 

Kyle Burden, a senior at Hartselle High School and a second year Tiger Launch said he is thankful for his participation in the program.  

“Tiger Launch has been a great way to get started in the workforce and learn job skills that I will need in the future,” Burden said. “The managers are so helpful to us, and they make it a wonderful work environment.”  

Additionally, Hartselle High School has achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first high school in North Alabama to receive approval as a state pre-apprenticeship program. 

Harris said Sonoco has an apprenticeship program in place Tiger Launch students have been participating in.  

“That was one of the criteria – that one of the industries we work with already has a program in place,” she said. “We will go through the curriculum and training in the classroom – including skills checks for safety, production, maintenance over the course of those two years and then they’ll do the on-the-job skills with Tiger Launch.” 

“This program would not be successful at Hartselle High School if it were not for the vision of Brian Kilpatrick, Director of Operations at Sonoco,” Harris added. “Richard Long, Tiger Launch Supervisor also has daily contact with these students and understands the unique situation of dealing with high school student needs while working with them in an industry with full time employees.”

Principal Brad Cooper said the program has been extremely beneficial to the students at Hartselle High School since its inception.  

“By getting real world work experience in high school, our students are ready to enter the workforce full time after graduation or enter college with the skills needed to be successful,” Cooper said. “We feel this program is a win-win for our students and our local workforce. We want all of our students to graduate Hartselle High School college or career ready, and this program helps us meet this important goal. I cannot say enough great things about the partnerships we have developed with our local workforce through Tiger Launch.”

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