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As I See It

Managing people one of the greatest challenges in biz

This week the Mississippi Business Journal delves into a wide range of issues with a multi-part editorial focus on workforce training, education and human resources. Though these subjects may seem disparate at first, they are actually pretty congruous since all relate directly to managing people resources.

Education in all forms is a hot-button issue for me. Without education, I would not be doing what I’m doing today or have had the many opportunities that my career has afforded. I imagine that most people who have risen from modest circumstances would agree that education opened the door to success.

There is really very little disagreement about the value of education among those who are educated. However, developing enthusiasm for the subject among the less educated is hard. The culture here in the South places low value on learning and education. Children’s attitudes are, in large part, the result of their parent’s attitudes and, in many cases, parental support for education is sorely absent in lower income families.

Blame it on our roots

Theorists blame it on our Celtic roots. I suspect there is some validity in that theory. It seems that the Celts, as compared with their more industrious English cousins who populated the Northeastern U.S., preferred to drink, hunt and dance rather than lead disciplined and industrious lives. Though stereotypical to the max, that theory seems plausible to me. Regardless of how we got this way, the truth is Southerners generally don’t value education as much as people in other parts of the country.

If we are ever going to get off the bottom of the economic pile, we’ve got to change our attitudes toward education. Former Gov. William Winter was absolutely right when he said that the road out of poverty goes by the schoolhouse.

And, education doesn’t stop with getting a diploma or degree. In this fast-moving, high-tech world we live in, education must be constantly renewed or we will find ourselves antiquated in a hurry. A firm commitment to lifelong learning is absolutely essential to full participation in today’s world. Increasingly, this is true for those with a high school education as well as for college grads.

Bonanza opportunity for business

In keeping with the subject of lifelong learning, I’d like to mention a bonanza opportunity that is laid before Mississippi employers this year. The community colleges have available a record amount of money for workforce training. This came about through some fancy footwork by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) at the behest of Gov. Haley Barbour and support from the Legislature.

Through a technical maneuver par excellence, MDES has arranged to divert $20 million from unemployment funds to workforce training for the fiscal year beginning July 1st. Unfortunately, the Legislature used this windfall to reduce their commitment of general fund money from the customary $12 million to about $3 million. Nonetheless, the community colleges have somewhere over $20 million in the workforce budget for the coming year.

This is a big deal! Unlike the individual needs-based federal training dollars that are available but severely restricted in how they can be used, this pot of money is available to employers for group training. Thus, employers who need to upgrade skills in their workforce can access these funds and improve the technical capability of their employees. The cost assessed by the community colleges is modest and affordable and the quality of training is excellent.

Spending this windfall responsibly has required the community colleges to slow down and get their heads together and the process is still in its infancy. So now is the time to contact your local community college workforce director and see how your company can participate. Commitments will be forthcoming over the next few months and getting ahead of the crowd is a winning idea.

Dr. Wayne Stonecypher, executive director of the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, says that, aside from offering group training to Mississippi employers, there is a critical, ongoing need to train more nurses and that priority will be addressed with the new funds. Other ideas under consideration include creating advanced technical centers to teach the upper-end tool trades and earmarking money for programs to encourage and assist entrepreneurs.

On a somewhat related note, I am pleased that Mississippi schools can now offer gaming management courses. I personally view gambling as a foolish pursuit; however, it’s an important part of our state’s economy and there’s no point in letting the higher paying jobs go to people from other states because we are forbidden to offer management training courses.

Further, in my opinion, it’s ridiculous to make the casinos build their facilities on barges over water.
Truth is we have gaming in Mississippi and if we’re going to have gaming we ought to admit that we have gaming and quit trying to act like we don’t.

Thought for the Moment

I can’t imagine a person becoming a success who doesn’t give this game of life everything he’s got. — Walter Cronkite

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

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