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Employers say potential employees need to hear the basics

MMA leads charge on employee education

Be on time. Make smart decisions. Follow directions.

These morsels represent basic expectations that employers in Mississippi have from workers, but for many, it’s lagniappe

when employees meet them.

“Employers, whether manufacturers or bankers, say they can find technically trained people on specific skills, but a majority

of applicants, particularly for entry level jobs, don’t have basic interpersonal skills,” said John Baas, director of industrial

relations for the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA). “It all gets back to the same thing: more people are coming

from families where these values are not stressed.”

In an effort to educate students about interpersonal skills required to get a job, the MMA, an 1,800-member statewide

organization that represents 240,000 manufacturing jobs, in collaboration with the Associated Builders and Contractors, the

Associated General Contractors, the Mississippi Bankers Association, the Mississippi Hospital Association, the Mississippi

Retail Association and the Mississippi Road Builders Association, teamed up with the state department of education to

initiate a poster campaign that lists employability skills and are targeted for distribution in the state’s 30,000 classrooms.

Jerry McBride, president of MMA, said employers are willing to provide extensive training for employees, but need

workers with a willingness to work and an understanding of what it takes to be a good employee.

“In today’s tight labor market, it is important that we find every possible employee,” McBride said. “There are jobs

available if people are prepared for the working environment.”

Modeled after successful programs in other states, the workforce development initiative developed after Baas spent the

summer speaking to employer groups and more than 1,000 vocational educators across the state, including a panel

discussion of ways vocational administrators and business and industry leaders could do a better job partnering to improve

workforce training.

“It’s not just in Mississippi that employers are calling for this, but everywhere,” Baas said.

Baas rallied support for the project from a coalition of business groups before he headed to the state department of

education to pitch the idea. Bill Blasingame of the Office of Vocational Technical Education at Mississippi State University

played an integral part by supervising the design and printing.

With some help from the state department of education’s Steve Williams and Christie Farese, Dr. Richard Thompson, state

superintendent of education, volunteered to hand deliver the posters during regional meetings this fall when he tours the state

to chat with parents and teachers about the state’s new testing, accreditation and accountability standards.

“While our main focus at the department of education is on student achievement, it is also important for schools to

emphasize and stress character traits such as honesty, loyalty, the ability to work well with others and simply getting to work

on time,” Thompson said. “We are excited to partner with several of the state’s business associations to send those

messages to Mississippi students.”

Baas, whose wife is an assistant teacher in the Madison County School District, was concerned about teachers’ responses

to the posters.

“I thought they might consider it an insult, but several teachers on various panels said it’s exactly what they wanted,” Baas

said. “They want children to be clean and dressed properly and ready to go to work when they get to school. I was

encouraged that the teachers were so enthusiastic about it.”

The idea for the poster is hardly original, yet very effective. A spin-off of sorts of Robert Fulghum’s “All I Ever Needed to

Know, I Learned in Kindergarten,” which spouted wisdoms such as, “share everything,” “play fair,” “don’t hit people” and

“flush,” Baas was ready to crank up the poster project a notch when he caught wind of a similar project in Vicksburg.

“We thought they might think we were stealing their thunder, but Jane Flowers said ‘carry the torch and spread the

message’,” he said, with a laugh.

Jane Flowers, work-based learning coordinator for the Hinds Community College Vicksburg/Warren County Branch, said

the Work-Based Learning Advisory Committee, consisting of business and industry leaders in Warren County, kicked off a

poster and billboard campaign, with newspaper advertising and radio spots, funded in part by Cooper Lighting in Vicksburg

and Entergy Mississippi, with only one difference: the MMA added “Be drug free” as an additional skill on its posters.

“We’ve been working with the Work-Based Learning Advisory Committee for about five years, and at the end of every

year, when we talked about problems with our workforce, the same issues kept coming up, so the committee came up with

the idea of addressing what employers expect from employees with this poster,” Flowers said. “Of course, the poster idea

was not an original concept. I’d seen one at a national education convention a few years and it said everything teachers and

employers wanted parents and students to know. We’re glad the MMA wanted to do this.”

Posters have made news beyond classrooms. They’ve popped up on college campuses and in employee lounges. The

Vicksburg School District placed a copy in the student handbook adjacent to the district’s strategic plan, Flowers said.

“I’ll use this as my rating sheet before I recommend the placement of a student on the job,” she said.

Petrecia Williams, work-based learning coordinator at Northwest Community College in Senatobia, said teachers can easily

incorporate the skills into their curriculum and refer to posters prominently displayed in classrooms.

“Whether you are going to be an engineer or a person who works on a tractor, you still have to organize your time, you

have to work as a team, you have to communicate,” Williams said. “It gets us all singing off the same page.”

Brent Alexander, senior vice president of the Mississippi Hospital Association, a statewide organization that represents more

than 100 hospitals and over 60,000 health care employees in Mississippi, and one of the cosponsors of the poster project,

said health care providers cannot afford to hire people who do not meet the skills requirements.

“We are excited to participate in this important project,” Alexander said. “Healthcare is one of the most rewarding and

highly competitive areas of Mississippi’s economy. Most health care professionals are required by law to have advanced

training in specific areas of expertise. Because of their similar training, interpersonal skills mean a great deal in the selection

of applicants for jobs. We are responsible for people’s lives. So, no matter how well educated or skilled the applicant, we

cannot afford to hire someone who is not absolutely honest, responsible and dependable. If an applicant for a job in one of

four facilities has a reputation for not taking pride in their work, or for sacrificing quality, they will not be hired no matter how

well educated or skilled they may be. What we do is too important.”

Private schools may also obtain posters at no charge by contacting the MMA at (601) 948

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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