By Crystal Burns
Tyson Foods and a consortium of local industries have helped created an industrial maintenance program at Gibson County High School to give students opportunities to stay at home, earn a good living, and advance in their careers.
Rodney Ellis, Tyson Foods technical education liaison, said the program is a “sampler platter” that benefits students and local industries.
“We’re trying to create a jack of all trades,” he said.
GCHS has partnered with Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) in Jackson, with the industry consortium working to develop the curriculum. Areas covered include Health & Safety, Mechanical, Principles of Basic Electricity, Welding, General, and Machine Tool Technology.
The program sets aside two to three hours per day for instruction, to eventually begin in ninth grade, continuing through senior year. In addition to earning dual credit through TCAT, students also have the opportunity to earn 50 to 60 certifications. There are about 75 skill paths students who complete the program could go into, including commercial, industrial, and residential technical career fields.
“We want to build a good, entry level foundation that fills industry and community needs,” Ellis said.
As the need arises, the program and space will also be dedicated to training incumbent workers in short segments to facilitate their work schedules.
Tyson donated about $110,000 worth of fluid power training platforms and multi-process welding equipment, and Bongards’ Creameries kicked in about $24,000, which the school has used to purchase motor control trainers, electric multimeters, and other electrical tools. Stanley Black & Decker donated hand tools, and several industrial vendors have contributed supplies.
Students at South Gibson County High School in Medina are able to take the courses at GCHS. Bongards’ Creameries also donated $2,000 to Bradford High School so that those students can be bused to GCHS or Milan High School for Career-Technical Education (CTE) programs.
“Our industrial partners have really helped us out,” said Rory Hinson, CTE director at Gibson County Special School District. “There’s a huge cost to start a program like this.”
Graves Metal of Jackson, MJS Russel Metals of Jackson, MacLean Power Systems of Trenton, HCI of Humboldt, Dyer Builders of Dyer, B&R Supply of Trenton, Hickerson Automotive Group of Trenton, Harbor Freight, Lowe’s of Milan, and Orange Coast Pneumatics, Inc. of Yorba Linda, Calif. also contributed to the program.
With industry in Gibson County and plenty more in Madison and other neighboring counties, Ellis said consortium leaders are working to close the skills gap by advocating for technical training in all six Gibson County high schools. The work began about two years ago.
Tyson Foods has its own Grow Our Own program that it launched four years ago to work with industrial partners to invest in communities where Tyson (the newest plant is currently under construction in Humboldt) has a presence. The goal is to boost and attract industries with skilled local talent while giving young people opportunities to stay home.
“We’re really excited about it,” Hinson said. “All of our county school districts are really listening to the needs of our county industries. The lines of communication are really open, and that’s what we want.”
Hinson said TCAT Jackson and Tyson helped GCHS staff recruit students for the program in early 2020. The school had yet to hire an instructor, and there was no equipment for students to see. The first students now going through the program signed up on faith, Hinson said.
“Now with the equipment and the instructor (Steve Argo), we think it’s a pretty easy sell for students to see the value,” he said.
Ellis said the industrial maintenance program can produce an entry-level wage of $16 to $20 per hour on average. Students interested in furthering their education through advanced technical programs can drive their earning power to the upper $20 range or even into the $30 per hour range.