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Moving workforce training to forefront

The State Workforce Investment Board met in Canton February 18th to begin a strategic planning process which will — hopefully — result in a comprehensive plan for fine-tuning the state’s workforce training program. This board, created by the Mississippi Comprehensive Workforce Training and Education Consolidation Act of 2004, is charged with breathing new life into our worker training efforts.

Training Mississippi’s workforce to handle the rapidly changing jobs of today and tomorrow is a complex undertaking. A multitude of state agencies are involved, and to further complicate matters, both federal and state funding is available, each having its own rules and regulations.
The task is daunting, but the future of our state depends on a successful outcome.

Everyone’s a student — for life

The term “education” generally brings to mind students age five to 25 who attend K-12, trade schools, or who are pursuing an academic degree at one of our community colleges or four-year universities.

In the real world of today, technology is making continuous changes in the workplace and nothing remains static. In that environment it’s no longer sufficient to just earn a high school diploma or college degree and prop your feet up. We’ve all got to commit to some degree of lifetime learning or we’ll be find ourselves obsolete in the workplace of tomorrow.

Publicly-funded worker training is the solution to updating adult worker skills, providing training for workers who have become displaced through plant closings and youth who have dropped out of school. These groups are beyond the reach of traditional education offered in high schools, community colleges and universities.

It is the charge of the new law that our workforce efforts be comprehensive and consolidated under one umbrella organization — the State Workforce Investment Board. The law calls for a board of 37 members selected by the governor to represent a broad cross-section of interested parties. It is my privilege to occupy one of those slots. I am the Southwest Workforce Area Representative and, as such, I represent the community colleges located in 17 counties in Southwest Mississippi.

Other board slots include elected officials, labor, business owners, state agency heads and others designated by the governor. It is the intent of the legislation that this diverse group will represent most everybody with an interest in training workers.

I was encouraged by our initial strategic planning session. Barbara Marino from the Stennis Space Center served as our planning facilitator, and the board is under the capable leadership of Hancock Bank CEO George Schloegel. The group was enthusiastic, energized and focused. We established some broad parameters from which a mission statement, objectives and goals will be gleaned in future meetings.

Measurable results

I was particularly interested, and frankly somewhat surprised, by all the attention given to accountability and stewardship. This group is serious about producing measurable results to justify the tax dollars spent. Developing benchmarks for measuring the results of training dollars spent is going to be tough, but this group is ready to rise to the occasion.

I served for a number of years on the predecessor state workforce council before the new law abolished it a year ago. I saw lots of old friends from the old council at the Canton meeting and it was somewhat of a reunion for us. Mississippi has a committed cadre of public and private sector people who realize the importance of workforce training and willingly give of their time and expertise to further the cause. For this, we should be proud and appreciative.

Though the law is new, workforce training is not. Each year, more than 150,000 Mississippians received some level of state- funded training through our community colleges. With the support of federal funds, well over 300,000 visited their local WIN Job Centers last year and nearly 100,000 received intensive counseling services. Some 50,000+ were placed in jobs. These are some big numbers and these only scratch the surface of what could, and needs, to be done to get our state ready to compete for jobs. All of these numbers could easily double once training efforts are streamlined and coordinated. This is exciting stuff!

The need to train and re-train Mississippi’s workforce should be clear to all. And, thankfully, resources are available to do the job. Our state has somewhere between $50 million and $100 million in combined federal and state money available annually to spend on worker training.

The only thing that stands in our way is coordinating our efforts, increasing public awareness of the services that are available and complying with the myriad rules and regulations that are part of every deal funded with taxpayer money.

Thought for the Moment

It is no use to preach to children if you do not act decently yourself. — Theodore Roosevelt

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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