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MMA digs into manufacturers’ workforce concerns

The Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) marked the third-annual Manufacturing Week in Mississippi by releasing results of a recent survey evaluating the workforce needs of Mississippi manufacturers.

MMA president Jay Moon was joined by Gov. Haley Barbour and Clarke Holmes, CEO of the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District and executive board member of the Workforce Investment Board, at the news conference held May 22 at Double G Coatings plant in Jackson to unveil the survey.

Moon said, “To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive compilation of manufacturers’ workforce training needs that has ever been prepared in Mississippi. We wanted to hear from manufacturers, to get from them exactly what their needs are. Key to the success and credibility of this project is that it was developed with direct input, and had a 70% response rate, from Mississippi manufacturers.”

Moon said the survey, titled “Mississippi Manufacturers: Preparing for the Jobs of the Future,” took approximately nine months to complete. Mississippi State University’s (MSU’s) Social Science Research Center conducted the survey, which was funded by a grant from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security and U.S. Department of Labor. The goal of the study was to identify opportunities and challenges that manufacturers face in the current business environment in meeting their current and future workforce needs.

The study explored areas such as recruitment and retention, educational and training requirements and delivery of workforce development programs.

Better, but…

Barbour pointed out that the state’s investment in workforce development and skills training has doubled since he took office, but more needed to be done. “We can’t simply throw a bunch of money at the problem, and then just walk away,” he said. “While tremendous improvements have been made in the state’s delivery of educational and workforce training services, it is important that we continually explore how to make our system even better. This has to stay on the front burner, and I intend to make sure it does.”

“The most important key to Mississippi’s short- and long-term growth depends heavily on our ability to produce the kind of workforce that can face increasing competition in the rapidly developing global marketplace,” Moon said. “As we move rapidly into the new millennium, our nation and our state face increasing competition in a rapidly developing global marketplace. In addition, rapid developments in technology have placed a greater emphasis on improving the skills of our workforce. As technology changes, so must the quality and levels of training our workers must receive if we are to retain our existing companies and attract new business to Mississippi.”

Barbour emphasized that a key to Mississippi’s recent landing of Toyota in North Mississippi and PACCAR in the Golden Triangle was the availability of quality workers. However, he said he was concerned that the state’s pool of quality workers would not be sufficient to meet future needs in the manufacturing sector. Barbour praised State Superintendent of Education Hank Bound’s efforts to revamp the state’s educational system and training delivery, but once again said more needed to be done.

When asked about funding, Barbour said part of the money would come from the Workforce Enhancement Fund, which earmarks a third of unemployment insurance tax dollars to workforce development and job skills training. With more Mississippians working, that fund has grown. He said he would also support more money coming out of the general fund for development and training.

Concerns abound

Respondents voiced a plethora of concerns and issues surrounding workforce development and skills training. Highlights of the study include:

• A high-performance workforce was seen as the top factor projected to be important to the success of Mississippi manufacturers over the next three years.

• Manufacturers face the problem of a lack of an integrated workforce training system designed to meet the needs of manufacturers.

• Mississippi’s current educational system does not adequately prepare the required high-performance workforce for the manufacturing jobs of the future.

• Employee shortages and skills deficiencies bring about difficulty in maintaining production levels consistent with consumer demands and achieving productivity targets.

• The vast majority of manufacturers engage in training activities in order to remain competitive.

• A significant number of manufacturers said they have positions that remain unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants, and the turnover rate is also a challenge.

• Only 23% of large manufacturers and 7% of small producers utilize external training sources through community colleges or vocational-technical schools.

• Manufacturers expect workforce shortages and skill gaps to continue if action is not taken.

More to come

The manufacturers’ survey is the first part of a three-phase study being conducted by the MMA. Currently, a pilot program is being developed in conjunction with MSU to determine how best to capitalize on university resources available to manufacturers. The third phase will address the future needs for a skilled workforce in the state by informing students of the careers available in manufacturing.

To view the complete survey, visit http://www.mma-web.org/, or call the MMA at (601) 948-1222.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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