Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, at left, toured East Mississippi Community College’s “Communiversity” near the Golden Triangle campus. EMCC President Dr. Thomas Huebner, at right, conducted the tour. Hosemann was in town to meet with area educators and business leaders.

February 19, 2018

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann wants educators and business leaders in the Golden Triangle area to work together to ensure that high school students are provided the skills needed to enter the workforce.

To that end, Hosemann moderated a round-table discussion Thursday, Feb. 15, at the newly-constructed Lowndes County School District’s Career & Technical Center that was attended by officials from the Lowndes County School District, East Mississippi Community College and representatives from about 20 small and medium-sized businesses.

The purpose of Hosemann’s visit, which included a tour of EMCC’s “Communiversity,” was to craft a model for workforce readiness that can be duplicated elsewhere.

The impetus for the meeting was response from a survey Hosemann’s office sent to business owners throughout the state asking them to identify barriers to growing their companies. Hosemann said nearly 1,800 business owners returned the survey, with 40 percent stating they would expand their businesses today if they had access to an educated workforce.

“Many of our young men and women will not seek a four-year degree after high school, so they need to know they have access to training in advanced technical skills that can lead to a well-paying job,” Hosemann said.

The round-table discussion included Hosemann, Lowndes County School Superintendent Lynn Wright, EMCC President Dr. Thomas Huebner and representatives from five area businesses, with input sought from the remaining attendees.

Several business owners said they have an immediate need for entry level workers with basic skill sets they can build upon with on-the-job training.

“We need workers with interim skills such as reading a tape measure and finishing concrete,” said Katie McCrary, whose family owns McCrary Construction Services.

In addition to for-credit classes, EMCC offers a multitude of short-term noncredit classes and certificate programs designed in conjunction with area businesses.

The Lowndes County School District’s Career & Technical Center, which opens Aug. 1, will offer high school students at Caledonia, New Hope and West Lowndes training in nine areas: Automotive Service Technician, Construction Core, Teacher Academy, Health Sciences, Industrial Maintenance, Welding, Polymer Science, Culinary Arts, and Engineering and Robotics.

“We want our kids to develop skills that will help them enter the workforce or go on to EMCC for more advanced training,” Wright said. “We will also work with Mississippi State University and the Mississippi University for Women. We have got a lot of programs that feed into each other.”

EMCC works closely with local industries and businesses to ensure courses taught meet local needs. In many cases, students learn on the same equipment used by area manufacturers. Instructors with programs such as Electrical Technology and Automation and Control Technology regularly conduct open houses to seek curriculum input from industries and business leaders.

“East Mississippi Community College is one of the leaders of that, along with Gulf Coast Community College,” Hosemann said. “We need to reinforce those efforts elsewhere in the state.”

Huebner said getting students interested in career technical fields at an early age is key.

“A student who comes to the Lowndes County School District’s Career and Technical Center can leave with the skills needed to land a particular kind of job,” Huebner said. “Later, they may decide to build upon their education with us at EMCC. If they need more, they can go to Mississippi State University or the Mississippi University for Women.”

Huebner invited the business leaders out to the college to talk more about opportunities for partnerships.

“Let us show you how we can use resources available to everyone in the state to accomplish your objectives,” Huebner said.

Nic Parrish of Burns Dirt Construction said there is a perception among the general public that career technical fields lead to low-skill, low-paying jobs. 

“We need to change those perceptions so people understand that these are careers that offer well-paying jobs that can provide for a family,” Parrish said. “Whether it is in construction, welding or automotive, these are jobs with benefits, healthcare and retirement.”

Hosemann agreed.

“Many of our high school students are interested in sports,” Hosemann said. “But how many of them are going to play professional football or make it into the NBA? The students who go into robotics are the ones who will go on to have really meaningful high-paying jobs.”