By Crystal Burns
Through a unique partnership with Peabody High School, MacLean Power Systems in Trenton has put seven seniors to work.
Annabell Barlow, Riley Connell, Hunter Scarbrough, Brett Wade, Colson Anglin, Walker Murry, and Janna Castleman comprise the first TOPS (Technical Options for Postsecondary Success) cohort. They spend the first part of their day at school before clocking in at MacLean at 12:30 p.m. At MacLean, the students are working in the areas of Safety, Quality, Human Resources, Maintenance, Tool Room, and with a Process Technician.
“They’re so excited about it,” said June McCourt, Career-Technical Education (CTE) director for the Trenton Special School District.
McCourt and Richard Sharp, Training and Education specialist at MacLean, worked for about two years to put the TOPS program together after observing a similar program in Madison County called LOOP, which is a partnership between the school system and Stanley Black & Decker.
Sharp started in manufacturing right out of high school, learning all that he could to work his way up the ladder. He did not attend any postsecondary training and said he hopes his experiences can motivate students to achieve in two years what it took him many more to do.
“I tell them my story,” he said. “If I can help a kid go the right direction to have a career or to go to a technical school, that’s my goal.”
Sharp placed the students based on their interests and strength as well as opportunities for growth within the company. None of the students will work on production lines due to safety concerns, but all of them will likely have offers from MacLean after they graduate.
McCourt said TOPS was created because local industry leaders have reported the need for employees with good attendance records, ability to utilize math and literacy skills in a work environment, and the soft skills necessary for success in a collaborative atmosphere. Many positions inside manufacturing facilities are listed on the Hot Careers of 2024 report.
“The TOPS program is one way that Trenton Special School District, Peabody High School, and the work-based learning class are responding to this need and preparing students for the local job market,” McCourt said.
McCourt said area CTE directors and manufacturing leaders are also working to change the perception of manufacturing careers. She hopes parents and siblings of students involved in TOPS will see the competitive wages they’re earning and their opportunities for advancement and education.
Peabody and MacLean already have one success story. Brock Wade, whose brother Brett is in TOPS, obtained a job at MacLean when he was at Peabody through the work-based learning program. He is currently working there full time and is enrolled in a Tennessee College of Applied Technology.
“His growth is through the roof,” Sharp said.
Peabody students chosen for TOPS were selected by their desire to have a job and whose academic schedules allowed them to leave school at 12:15. Participating students also must have earned or will earn all high school credits for graduation, have no discipline infractions, have parental consent and their own transportation, pass a drug test, and complete other criterion set forth by MacLean.
Sherri Spencer, HR manager for MacLean, said the students’ first few days on the job have been successful. They started Sept. 8.
“They want to learn professionalism,” she said.
MacLean Power systems currently employs about 450 people on two shifts in Trenton. The company manufactures and supplies products for electric utility, civil/construction, and communication markets.