STAY program gives new opportunities to students

Apprentice learning machinery in factory

High School seniors will have the opportunity to STAY and secure good careers thanks to Monogram Refrigeration.

During a public expansion announcement on June 29, GE/Monogram Refrigeration and the McNairy County School System unveiled a joint project aimed at high schoolers interested in acquiring hands-on experience and on-the-job training in local companies.

With school systems ravaged by the pandemic, students and parents are eager for any positive developments. A press conference for GE revealed some promising news for the young men and women of the county: the Skills Training Alliance for Youth (STAY) initiative will recruit high school seniors from the community for paid work-study positions at nearby factories.

Ray Deming, vice-president and plant manager for Monogram Refrigeration in Selmer, lauds the program as beneficial for everyone involved.

“This program is something we’ve talked about for years, but never got it off the ground…It’s going to allow high school students in their senior year to work four hours for corporations in this area on a daily basis.” Deming related. “We look forward to them hitting the floor running; we also really need that skill set developed.”

Deming elaborated that the program is designed so that seniors can fulfill their training requirements, refine their unique talents and expand their understandings of the manufacturing industry before steppping out of high school and into the same, or similar, positions that they filled during their time with STAY.

“As they graduate high school, we really want them to remember Monogram Refrigeration and come back as full-time employees,” explained Deming.

The initiative comes as industries around the country face a massive labor shortage; the lack of workers has prompted some local factories to redouble their recruiting efforts and shift their focuses toward hiring younger workers.

According to Selmer Mayor John Smith, over 200 jobs are immediately available across five industries within the city limits. STAY can begin to fill these positions and help to ensure that local industries thrive.

The pandemic and the labor shortage challenged the local school system to reassess its strategies for getting high schoolers into real-world positions where they can practice the skills they learn in the classroom.

“I think we were taught a great lesson with COVID, especially in the education front, that you had to be very flexible to make things work,” reflected Greg Martin, Superintendent of McNairy County Schools. “That experience relates to what we were seeing in the job community and job needs. We began to think about our work-study programs–how could we make those better? GE has a long history, and I think the exciting thing about this is, given that history and the quality of jobs that GE has always provided for our communities, we’ll have parents who will be engaged and want their kids to be a part of this.”

The process of improving work-study programs for technical students began under Ronnie Teague, the previous Career and Technical Educator (CTE) for McNairy County. Unfortunately, the pandemic and Teague’s retirement forced the project onto the back-burner. But when GE/Monogram recently underwent a major expansion, they forged a partnership with the McNairy County School System and pledged to make Teague’s project a reality.

In addition, GE/Monogram will fund $10,000 to pay for the OSHA-10 certifications of every participating student over the next four years. Organizers hope for STAY to impact up to 100 total students this year from both McNairy Central and Adamsville High Schools.

“We hope we have a large group of participants that we can create some connections with,” added Martin. “I think this has the potential to be one of the best things we’ve ever done. I think getting on board with people like GE that have been long-time players in our county, where parents of students have always known that we have the opportunity to go to work at GE with the benefits they offer, it’s one of the best jobs you can get around here.”

Thus far, two companies have signed onto the initiative: Monogram Refrigeration in Selmer and Design Team Sign Company in Adamsville. Between these locations, 20 to 35 positions will be open to students by the launching of the school year. Additional companies are working to join the program in the near future, which will likely widen the application pool.

“We want to make sure we put all of the necessary support systems in place, so that when we do add some more partnerships, it’s successful,” clarified Shane Stults, McNairy County’s current CTE.

Of the 40% of McNairy County students who are likely to go directly into the workforce, 45 to 50 seniors are currently registered for work-based learning. However, the STAY program is open to any senior looking for a hands-on job in an industrial and/or technical field. Stults will make a presentation to seniors on the first day of the new school year about how the online applications will work; he will also answer any questions the students may have. Applications will remain open for several days following the presentation and are to be submitted with the approval a school counselor.

Eligibility is primarily determined by the senior’s “graduation readiness,” or nearness to completing all of his or her high school’s academic requirements.

Because participants will need to be absent from school for half of the day, they will work with their counselors and other advisors to schedule STAY hours around classes and extracurricular activities. Stults assured that, because the program is such a new endeavor for McNairy County, he and his colleagues will keep the process as flexible as possible.

“Many seniors already have a job that they’re thinking of; maybe they’re already employed…and they really want to be in manufacturing but didn’t know how to. This will help them get their foot in that door,” told Stults. “This will help with more than just the student’s getting a job.”

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