CANTON — With the Nissan plant scheduled to begin production in summer 2003, education and
business leaders are busy collaborating on workforce training efforts at the community college and
“Higher education must cooperate to deliver the programming that Nissan will need,” said Pamela P.
Smith, spokesperson for the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning.
“IHL is prepared to do anything it can to assist in this regard.”
During the one-day special session called by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove last month, lawmakers approved
$80 million for job training as part of the $295-million bill that helped Mississippi land a $930-million
Nissan plant in Madison County. The automotive plant is expected to generate 4,000 jobs, with as many
as 30,000 jobs in supporting industries.
“This represents a wonderful opportunity for our community colleges — not only to provide very
diverse educational training for Nissan, but also for other businesses which will be affected by it,” said
Dr. Olon Ray, executive director of State Board for Community and Junior Colleges. “One of the
major training responsibilities we’ll need to delve into is retraining people as Nissan starts to hire folks
who come from existing businesses.”
Workforce training at community colleges
Ray said he’s not clear how much of the $80-million pie community colleges will receive.
“My impression is that will be worked out among the Nissan people and the Mississippi Development
Authority and the community colleges,” Ray said. “We stand ready to do everything we’re called on to
do. At the same time, we won’t abandon or diminish our efforts on the part of existing businesses in the
This year, nearly 140,000 trainees for 834 businesses were served through workforce education in
Mississippi for FY2000. Of the businesses that received training, 4,280 jobs were created and 7,506
jobs were saved or retained statewide, according to a report compiled by the State Board for Community
and Junior Colleges as a result of a survey of businesses served through workforce development
Since 1996, the number of trainees served through workforce education has nearly doubled, when
70,725 residents were trained at the state’s workforce development centers. In 1997, the number rose to
87,423. The following year, the statewide number climbed to 96,375. Last year, 99,847 trainees were
“The program has grown by enormous proportions every year,” Ray said. “I’m expecting us to grow
considerably more next year as a result of requests from the business community.”
When the Workforce Education Act was passed in 1994, which established career centers throughout
the state, community colleges formed a partnership with local employment services, and with greatly
increased funding — about $13 million — began to actively work with businesses around the state to
train the existing workforce and to establish industrial startup training at plants like Nissan.
Holmes Community College, located closest to the Nissan plant site, is one of several schools that will
receive money to hire more teachers and will add automobile workforce training classes.
“At all 15 community colleges, you can just see where the arrows point straight up (with trainees served
through workforce education), and it will only increase,” said Dr. Clyde Muse, president of Hinds
Community College in Raymond, which trained 31,253 employees for 224 companies in FY2000.
“Essentially, 80% of the workforce needed in any company requires additional education beyond high
school, but it does not require a baccalaureate degree. I’m sure there will be a need for highly skilled
engineers in many different fields, but I would think that when you narrow down Nissan’s needs, 80%
of the workforce will need technical degrees and experience — from industrial maintenance to machine
shop and welding skills. That’s where community colleges step in.”
Workforce training at the university level
In preparation for the arrival of Nissan, Mississippi’s universities are already geared up to provide
immediate assistance to the international automotive conglomerate through direct training and research
in the fields of engineering, production systems, personnel management and engineering technology at
Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women, the University of Mississippi, the
University of Southern Mississippi and Jackson State University.
“As the need arises, new programs and services may be developed in order to assist in this exciting
opportunity for our state,” Smith said.
Mississippi State University’s School of Engineering will open a $6-million extension center near
Canton and a $9-million Center of Advanced Vehicular Systems at its research park in Starkville.
Jackson State University’s new engineering school should be fully operational in two to three years.
In Jackson, the University of Mississippi already offers master’s degree programs in computer
engineering, with an emphasis in telecommunications, and general electrical engineering, with an
emphasis in large-scale integrated circuit design, said Dr. Charles E. Smith Sr., professor and chairman
of UM’s electrical engineering department.
“In special cases, we would even consider a Ph.D. degree, but that would have to be negotiated through
us because it’s difficult to do off campus,” he said. “I envision a mix of on-campus and off-campus
studies to make it work.”
In addition to strong programs in science, mathematics and business, Mississippi University for
Women offers a dual degree program with MSU and Auburn University for engineering students.
The University of Southern Mississippi has already rallied support to the proposed Nissan plant
through its engineering technology and nationally-ranked polymer science programs, according to Dr.
Steve Doblin, dean of USM’s College of Science and Technology, which includes a School of
Engineering Technology and School of Polymers and High-Performance Materials.
USM’s School of Engineering Technology, which offers Mississippi’s only bachelor’s and master’s
degree programs in workforce training and development, designs its engineering technology programs
to meet the needs of industry, and a new program for Nissan could be initiated almost immediately, said
Dr. Ruth Ann Cade, director of the engineering technology school.
Smith said the College Board “looks forward to working with all of the elected officials to strengthen
higher education in our state.”
“We will be providing the new office holders with information on the university system and how it
helps our state,” she said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@ yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.