Just a handful of months out from the start of the 2014 SkillsUSA Mississippi State Championship and the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF), Mississippi Department of Education and other event partners are having to tweak their plans and overcome some late-in-the-game challenges.
And, they couldn’t be more pleased.
“One of the things we learned from last year is we need more space,” said Mike Barkett, president of MCEF. “Now, the program has grown and we need even more space. It has just taken off, and we’ve had to regroup.”
An Olympics-style event focused on skilled construction trades, high school, community college and skilled crafts persons enrolled in MCEF’s apprentice program will compete at the 2014 SkillsUSA Mississippi State Championship, which will be held Feb. 25-26, 2014, at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. Competition will be held in 11 construction craft areas, with winners in each category going on to the national championship.
While the competitors take center stage during the event, organizers also use the program to showcase the career opportunities construction offers. To that end, organizers invite students, educators and guidance counselors as well as public officials and business leaders to the event with the aim of recruiting much-needed young skilled craftsmen into the construction industry.
The 2013 version of the competition was vastly expanded. While MCEF has offered the championship each year since its inception in 1996, 2013 marked the first time MCEF showcased under one roof the progression of construction training from high school to community college to apprenticeship to careers in construction.
Last year’s event exceeded expectations — and capacity. The competition is held in the Mississippi Trademart at the State Fairgrounds.
“We are having to utilize the full Trademart, not just the central and east bays like last year,” Barkett said. “With the added competition as well as our luncheon and everything else, we decided to use the west bay, too.”
One of the factors in the need for more space is that, for the first time, eighth-graders will be invited to the event. Organizers wanted to reach this group because as ninth-graders, the students must declare a career path. Organizers are hoping that viewing the competition will steer some of these students toward skill trades.
With MDE’s backing, MCEF sent invitations to schools. Within the first several hours of the announcement, they had heard from schools promising to bring 300 students. In total, some 600 eighth-graders are expected to attend.
The vendor list has expanded to 26, and will feature new technology, MMC Materials’ cement trucks that have been converted to run on natural gas, virtual machines simulating welding and forklift work, the asphalt industry and more.
The field of competitors has also grown. Last year, 12 teams of four competed in each category. This year, 20 teams will be on hand.
Returning this year, but with a broader theme of workforce development, will be event workshops, which target school counselors, giving them a chance to hear from construction professionals about the career opportunities in skilled trades.
This will include a new push is to recruit more females into the construction industry. Organizers hope to get more grade-school girls to consider the building industry, and have invited Mittie Cannon, an African American woman who started in construction as a skilled craftswoman and today is director of workforce development at the Birmingham, Ala.-based firm Robins & Morton, to speak.
“I wanted to find out what it would be like to go out on a jobsite and be a crafts worker,” Cannon said. “I put the boots on, put the tools on, and got involved.
“You don’t see African American women working in construction every day. So, I think it’s very important for (females) to see me as a role model.”
With all of the new and expanded offerings, organizers are convinced the 2014 SkillsUSA Mississippi State Championship will be the most successful to date.
“Last year went really well,” said Barkett, “and it is building momentum for the 2014 event.”
For more on the MCEF and the championship, visit mcef.net.
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