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As I See It

Training Mississippians for global economy realities

I had an unwelcome visitor yesterday — it was my birthday. It’s funny how something so anxiously anticipated in our youth becomes so dreaded in later years. Well, I’m 58 now and there’s nothing I can do about it. I only wish I had known what I know now when I was 25 or so.

Our editorial focus this week takes a look at what’s going on in education, human resources and workforce training. From my perspective, there is no subject that is more important than training in today’s rapidly changing world. If your skills aren’t growing all the time, you’re heading straight toward the career landfill where you’ll spend the rest of your working life wondering what happened to your career.

MBA programs around the state are thriving because folks want to update their skills and they want proof that they did it. I’m all for it. In fact, I have a master’s degree myself, though mine is dated in 1971 and doesn’t prove that I’ve kept my skills updated. Nonetheless, having that master’s degree has opened a lot of career doors for me, and I continue to be thankful that I took the time and spent the money to get it.

Plus, I really learned some good stuff.

Training in the workplace is equally as important as college courses. Folks who are in the workforce (the new term is “incumbent workforce”) benefit from every new thing they learn about their jobs. Being subjected to new technology in the workplace is almost a daily occurrence and its more than most people can handle without training.

The State of Mississippi is plowing over $20 million a year into workforce training through the community colleges and its money well spent. Most of our workforce training funds come from diverting a portion of our surplus unemployment funds, which are held in Washington by the U.S. Department of Labor, into the training fund. This was accomplished last year and I applaud the Legislature and the Department of Employment Security for arranging the conversion of those excess unemployment funds into workforce training resources. This is an example of government working effectively for the benefit its constituency.

On a somewhat related note, there is much political noise being made about raising the minimum wage. Admittedly, the minimum wage rate hasn’t been adjusted in a really long time, but there’s an arguable point against raising it now. There are those who will strongly disagree with me on this one however, I’m strongly certain that I’m right.

The whole concept of a minimum wage is a fallacy. It discourages individual initiative, promotes mediocrity and encourages people to stay in menial jobs that have less future every day. Its basic assumption is that some people’s services are not worth a living wage but employers should be forced to pay them one anyway. It’s a safety net that discourages productivity, advancement and lulls workers into a false sense of security. Far better to focus workers on the advantages of making their contribution in the workplace so valuable that employers will pay whatever is required to keep them on board.

I’m sure I’ll get a tongue lashing for my ludicrous idea that America is the land of opportunity but not of entitlement. But then the entitlement industry is huge, and if everyone developed good work skills the entitlement, folks would be out of business. What a shame.

However, reality being what it is, it’s probably necessary to keep some type of minimum wage around to prevent abuse by greedy employers. Even begrudgingly agreeing that it’s necessary that we have to have it, it should be maintained at mere subsistence level to encourage people to rise above the minimum as quickly as possible. Hopefully, we’ll reach the point where working for minimum wage doesn’t satisfy anyone’s goal for his or her career.

Moving to another somewhat controversial issue, Dr. Hank Bounds, State Superintendent of Education, has a plan to modify grade school curriculum to better prepare youngsters to succeed in the workplace. This is a courageous thing for him to do and he will get sabotaged, tongue-lashed and ridiculed, but I’m for his program.

We need to get our heads out of the sand and prepare our children for the work world. The number of jobs requiring a college degree hangs at about 25% and hasn’t changed for many years. We’re sending too many kids to college simply for the sake of sending them to college. Once on campus, many of these students fail to finish a degree program, drop out and end up with a pile of student loans and other bills. A different career path — grounded in the reality of available employment — and more of them might be making big bucks in the workforce rather than moving home to momma and daddy.

Mississippi is plagued with an unacceptable high school dropout rate (40% or so), and it’s going to hold our state back until we fix it. There is little demand in the workplace for high school dropouts and what little demand there is will diminish over time. If Dr. Bounds’ program takes hold and succeeds, I believe those statistics will improve before your very eyes. We wish for Dr. Bounds courage and stamina to overcome the entrenched education bureaucracy.

Thought for the Moment

The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are. — Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180)

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

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