The Mississippi Economic Council believes in the importance of workforce training for the state’s future. That’s why it embarked on an aggressive 25-city tour to bring education leaders and the business community together to discuss plans and issues. Called the Trailblazer Tour, the meetings are being well attended, according to MEC spokesman Scott Waller.
“It was our first time to go to Indianola and more people turned out than we’ve ever had for a meeting,” he said. “We’ve had good crowds in all the towns so far.”
“The idea behind the tour is to follow up on Blueprint Mississippi and to illustrate a greater relationship between school and the work world,” said the MEC’s president Blake Wilson. “We’ve had no trouble getting people to join the tour and to attend the meetings. There’s a strong support for this kind of approach from the business community. It’s something they’ve wanted for years.”
Tour participants include Dr. Hank Bounds, state superintendent of education; Tommye Dale Favre, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security; Dr. Tom Meridith, commissioner of higher education; and Dr. Wayne Stonecypher, executive director of the Mississippi State Board for Community and Junior Colleges.
Wilson said one of the purposes of the tour is to present Bounds’ education plan to the business community and get formal feedback from them. “They will learn first hand about pending changes and existing programs to ultimately strengthen the state’s economy. We’re also promoting what’s available from the Department of Employment Security,” he said. “It’s a holistic approach.”
Bounds, who’s attending all 25 meetings, said he owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the MEC, president Blake Wilson and chairman Tom Gresham for organizing the tour and giving him the opportunity to share the plan with business leaders, concerned parents and elected officials across the state.
“While the businesses and industries that call Mississippi home may be diverse, they all have one thing in common: they depend upon a strong workforce for their success,” he said. “Employing skilled, dependable workers is a challenge that all businesses face. I look forward to sharing the plan with employers around the state to gain their insight and input on how we can strengthen the plan to better prepare our students today to be their workforce in the future.”
Favre is telling participants about changes going on at the Department of Employment Security. “The Trailblazer Tour is an excellent opportunity to showcase the services available at the WIN Job Centers,” she said. “In addition, I appreciate the MEC’s focus on education and workforce development and the role each agency plays.”
Those who can’t attend each meeting participate by video messages. “The point is to get issues on the table and get feedback,” Waller said. “Folks have responded positively and education leaders are listening to what they say about getting the state’s workforce better prepared. Businesses stand a much better chance to be productive and profitable when they tie it in with education.”
He said education leaders want to get businesses’ ideas with the redesign of workforce education shaped by the feedback. “We always have a question-and-answer session at the end of each meeting and people are open about speaking up,” he said.
Written surveys are filled out at the end of each meeting, too. “People are taking the time to fill them out so we know they’re listening. We’re getting a good response,” Waller said. “Now we’re going through the information received at the meetings to organize it.”
By taking the Trailblazer Tour to 25 cities, the meetings are reaching all areas. The goal was to have the gatherings within a 30-minute drive for everyone. There’s an effort to reach every part of the state. The logistics to go to 25 cities in a three month time frame took a lot of planning with various state and local groups.
“Fortunately, we have been able to work it out,” Waller said. “Blake says we’re shrinking the miles that separate us, and that’s what we’re doing to get the message out there so people feel like they have an active part in it without having to come to Jackson.”
In August, the tour went to the Delta, Oxford and Southaven. The jam-packed September tour includes 11 cities from Philadelphia to the Gulf Coast. The itinerary for September 13 includes breakfast at Magnolia Columns in Picayune, lunch at Montana’s in Gulfport and afternoon refreshments at the LaFont Inn in Pascagoula.
The tour continues in October and November and concludes on December 12 in Jackson with lunch at the Hilton.
Invitations are being sent to MEC members but the meetings are open to everyone. There is no cost to attend, but organizers ask participants to register by phone, fax or e-mail to have a headcount. Food is served at each meeting.
“Workforce training is a big issue. We’ve heard it for a long time and how it impacts the state,” Waller said. “It was a big part of Blueprint Mississippi and the tour is a continuation of that.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.