In the fall of 1994, Shane Bales was one of three students from Gibbs High school in Knoxville, Tennessee, helping to pilot a unique new TVA opportunity: learn computer-aided drafting (CAD) while providing part-time paid services to TVA and receiving class credit.

Thirty years later, TVA’s CADNet school-to-work program is still helping build the future workforce of the Tennessee Valley region. Today, TVA partners with 53 schools—including two colleges—in eleven counties in East Tennessee, three in Alabama and two in Georgia. About 15 schools have onsite CADNet labs, while the rest are operated virtually. Over 52,000 students have been impacted since the program was initiated.

“Three decades of CADNet!” marvels Shane, who now manages the TVA program. “It’s incredible to think back to being one of its first three students.”

“The journey has been immensely rewarding,” he continues. “Our focus on preparing the next generation of professionals by empowering students to expand their educational and career opportunities has made CADNet a valuable source of talent for TVA.”

In addition to the technical skills learned, CADNet offers students real-world, hands-on experience and the opportunity to work with industry professionals—helping teach the importance of time management and meeting deadlines, as well as learning to meet and exceed expectations. To participate, they must be enrolled in high school or college full time and commit to working between 10 and 20 hours a week.

During the program, students become an integral part of the TVA team. Upon completion, they are proficient in AutoCAD and have a good working knowledge of the drafting practices and standards in use today. Over 4,500 former CADNet students have been hired by TVA.

“CADNet has played a pivotal role in my professional journey, opening doors to opportunities I could only have dreamed of,” said Riley Nelson, TVA Design Tech in Transmission’s Protection & Control department. “My CADNet experience has paved the way for my current success at TVA, and for that I will always be profoundly thankful.”

Kellie Lafaele, a project manager in Power System Advancement and participant in Transmission’s Leadership Development Program, is another successful former CADNet student.

“Participation in the program opened up doors for me that I didn’t even know existed,” she said. “My work with the System Protection & Analysis (SPA) group not only introduced me to the world of electrical engineering, but also showed me its real-life applications. TVA’s commitment to community outreach through CADNet made me realize that a career in engineering was within my reach. I’m proud to be a product of such a program and even prouder to see its lasting impact not just on me, but on generations to come.”

The work done by the CADNet students is billable and supports capital projects for TVA Transmission. Although Transmission is the team’s largest customer, they also perform some work for organizations outside TVA. For example, to date they have scanned close to 100,000 drawings for the Knoxville Utility Board.

TVA organizations are also utilizing the CADNet team to support its We Work Everywhere and Facilities Transformation initiatives. The team has been instrumental in creating a digital records library to create a more efficient way for all employees to instantly access records and files. The scanning team had a record 2023 fiscal year with 440,560 documents scanned.

“CADNet has been providing valuable services to TVA and other Valley businesses for thirty years,” notes Tim Willis, Director Transmission Technical Services. “By partnering with local schools, the program has provided opportunities for students to learn by working on many real-world projects. The end result is the development of a more skilled workforce for both TVA and Valley businesses.”