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Peyton Holland delivers keynote speech at MEC meeting./JACK WEATHERLY/MBJ

Job skills, education emphasized at MEC meeting

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) is all about jobs and education.

For that reason, speakers at the council’s annual meeting on Thursday talked and about where Mississippi stands in those categories.

STAR students (the MEC’s Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition Program) were lauded and Gov. Phil Bryant ran down a litany of rankings that show that the state is no longer on the bottom rung of the national education ladder.

Similarly, the governor named the large prestige employers in the state.

Governors across the country are emphasizing the term
“work force” rather than “education” in recent years in their key addresses to their respective states, Bryant said.

Bryant finished his speech and introduced a video as fodder for thinking about the future.

The video showed a world of automation in industry, driverless trucks, robotic surgery and artificial intelligence therapy.

In stark contrast to the video, keynote speaker Peyton Holland told the gathering at the Jackson Convention Complex of the virtues and value of hands-on skills.

He told of his father, a jack of all trades and, according to Holland, master of all he undertook.

His father’s skills were architecture, engineering, physics and mathematics. He put them into practice in building his own house, Holland said.

His father had only a high school degree, Holland said.

There is a “strong societal bias” that shapes the perception of success, said Holland, professional speaker and executive director of USASkills of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., which helps students with technical skills find their way into the work place.

As a boy, he wanted to emulate his father, so when he got into high school he wanted to take classes in masonry and horticulture and other hands-on skills.

But he was discouraged from taking that path, he said. He was told that he really needed to get a four-year college degree.

And, while Holland did get a four-year degree and two master’s degrees, he did not forget his father’s mode.

So his speech, “Skills That Pay Bills” showed that there is an alternative to the academic path.

He cited a Mississippi example.

Earlier this year there were more than 1,000 coding jobs unfilled in Mississippi. Innovate Mississippi has partnered with the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Community College Board to establish Coding Academies.

Graduates of the 11-month, tuition-free academies can start at $50,000 and earn upwards of $100,000.

Skilled workers can be paid a six-figure salary at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, he noted.

“A master craftsman should be looked on as the equal of someone with a master’s degree,” Holland said.

Scott Waller presided over the event, which drew about 2,000, for the first time as head of the organization. Waller succeeded 19-year President and CEO Blake Wilson.

Dan Rollins, chairman and chief executive of Tupelo-based BancorpSouth, succeeded William Yates III, president and chief executive of Yates Construction, as chairman of the MEC.

Two ballerinas performed pieces from “Sleeping Beauty” as Mona Nicholas touted the quadrennial USA International Ballet Competition that will be held June 10-23. The competition was established by Thalia Mara in 1979 and will be held in the downtown Jackson performing arts theater named for her.

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