Manufacturing education program implemented

INCA Presswood Pallets, LTD in Sardis and Pride Hyundai of Batesville recently hosted students from South Panola High School’s new Industrial Manufacturing class, Automotive Services II, along with students from the Career Pathways Experience classes.

Students who toured the INCA facilities learned what INCA produces and how those products are used in other manufacturing companies. Students who toured Pride Hyundai learned about purchasing a new or used vehicle, plus they learned about the requirements needed to work in the service department at Pride.

The Industrial Manufacturing Education Program is the first step to be implemented in Panola County’s Workforce Development Plan. The overall vision of the plan is to engage the youth of the community by helping them find and develop their SPARK, to create a continuous workforce for existing and potential industrial businesses for Panola County, and to create a cooperative effort between the county school systems and existing industry.

In 2017, Panola Partnership organized a representation from area industries to discuss their new ACT WorkReady Initiative and other issues facing area industry. Consensus focused on the inadequacy of the workforce to meet current and future needs. The symptoms described by attendees included: absenteeism, turnover, unsafe employees, untrained employees, and employees unfamiliar with manufacturing environments.

North and South Panola High Schools, along with Panola Partnership, worked with the State Department of Education to add a manufacturing focused curriculum to its existing CTE (career technical education) programs with two main components designed to teach hard skills:

A classroom curriculum for high school sophomores and juniors (IME –Industrial Manufacturing Education), and a Work-Based Learning program for high school seniors who have completed the IME curriculum. Seniors will intern at local manufacturers to acquire an overall understanding of the manufacturing environment and gain work experience which prepares them for future full-time employment.

The Industrial Manufacturing Education curriculum includes: plant maintenance, machining technology, manufacturing methods & quality control, manufacturing finance and administration, critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as hands’ on, work-based learning at area industries. The ultimate goal and purpose of the Work Based Learning program is to provide a long term pipeline of employees for our region’s companies – not a temporarily supplied workforce.

Numerous county employers have signed letters of commitment supporting the efforts of the Industrial Manufacturing Education Program and the Work Based Learning (WBL) Program.

Over the next year these industries will be working with the Career Pathways Coordinators at the local high schools to develop the Senior Year, Work Based Learning programs.

Each participating industry will tailor the WBL program to its particular needs with an eye on future, permanent employment for the students.

South Panola Schools have invested considerably in opening the Industrial Manufacturing Education Program for the fall of 2018. This included the hiring of the IME instructor Jessey Higdon.

Higdon will not only train the students in the classroom but will be the liaison between the manufacturing environment and the students. The Mississippi Department of Education approved curriculum has been implemented and the exposure and introduction to the industrial world has begun throughout the county.

North Panola Schools is also participating in the Work Based Learning Program with the utilization of their existing engineering curriculum currently offered at North Panola High School.

Students from the county have already and will continue to visit local industries as the students learn about the local opportunities available and develop their SPARK in their chosen profession.

The SPARK program is a comprehensive program with the goal of introducing young people to the opportunities available in the area. The program will begin by introducing grade-school students to computer science and a modern manufacturing environment through manufacturing camps and fairs.

Continued exposure will occur throughout their middle school and early high school careers.

These opportunities, however, are not limited to historic production worker roles. Students will be exposed to all aspects of the business and manufacturing environment including accounting, quality control, management, engineering and maintenance, as well as those opportunities in the daily production needs of the area’s industries.

Mentoring programs with local professionals will be a strong aspect of the program as we continue to develop and grow the relationship between the education and industrial sectors.

The SPARK program was developed by Dale Hart and the INCA management team as the need to hire and develop a capable and skilled workforce become increasingly more difficult. Hart has served as a manufacturing plant manager for more than 25 years and his recent duties as General Manager of multiple facilities has allowed him to research and experience programs all over the country.

This extensive research and an understanding of the needs of our local community led to the creation of the SPARK program. With the full support and help of the Panola Partnership, the program was introduced to other industries and presented to the local school systems. Overwhelming support from Superintendent Tim Wilder of South Panola Schools led to the program being introduced to the State of Mississippi, Department of Education.

The recognized need and determination of the education leadership, at both the local and state level, has been the driving force in bringing this program to reality.

There is much more to be developed and implemented with the SPARK program. With the continued support of education, industry and the local community leaders, Panola County can become the leader in Mississippi for the development and success of our young people and the success and growth of Panola County.

For more information about Panola County’s Workforce Development Plan, visit the Panola Partnership website at