The Work Ethic Distinction originated in 2015 as part of the Tennessee Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP), a Tennessee initiative developed to ensure that the state is graduating skilled workers ready to take on the jobs offered by employers and industry. The program was first adopted and implemented by school systems in three Northeast Tennessee counties: Grainger, Hawkins, and Hamblen. An additional three counties, Cocke, Greene, and Sevier, were added to the Work Ethic Distinction program in 2016, as part of Tennessee’s LEAP 2.0. Shortly thereafter, other high schools in Northeast Tennessee and beyond began adopting the Work Ethic Distinction for their students.
The Work Ethic Distinction consists of 14 standards that show students have the soft and technical skills necessary to be prepared to enter the workforce. Each standard has a point value assigned to it. Students earn points for each standard they complete; any student earning 20 or more total points receives the Work Ethic Distinction.
The primary benefit of earning the WED is a guarantee from supporting employers. These employers agree to interview any person that has earned a WED and applies for an open position that they are qualified for. The guarantee of an interview under these conditions is a major incentive for students to complete the WED while still in school. In 2022, legislation was passed to make Work Ethic Distinction a statewide graduation distinction. Earners are now known as “Tri-Star Scholars.”
To support these students, as well as schools and local industry, in this effort, the Niswonger Foundation created WE Track – an online tracking system that allows students and schools to track progress for the Work Ethic Distinction. It also allows employers to interact with students earning this credential.
WE Track has greatly aided in tracking the Work Ethic Distinction in schools across Tennessee. As the WED program has expanded across the state, more and more schools need a solution for tracking program points and engaging stakeholders. In order to meet this need, the Niswonger Foundation has been working to expand WE Track service to school systems across the state.