By LISA MONTI
The Mississippi Construction Education Foundation is on a mission to recruit and train workers for the plentiful, well-paying jobs in the construction industry.
Besides reaching out to students, the foundation teaches the benefits of construction and manufacturing jobs to moms and dads who want their kids to go to work rather than college.
“Some parents have a misconception about vo-tech training and it is looked down upon,” said Mike Barkett, MCEF’s president.
“We try to change those perceptions and to get kids to understand they don’t have to go to college to be a success.”
Doubting parents might be surprised by the perks and potential that construction and manufacturing workers can enjoy. Salaries are competitive and jobs are in demand. In 2020, the United States will need 1.8 million additional craft professionals including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, heavy equipment operators, painters and welders. Eighteen percent of available jobs will be in construction and 12 percent in manufacturing.
The industry needs more people in the pipeline because the average age of a construction worker is about 47.
“Craftsmen are getting older and retiring,” Barkett said. “All indications are in 2015 and 2016 we’re looking at a construction boom in the state and nation. Who’s going to do all the building?”
Another selling point: workers who start out as helpers can, with hard work and dedication, end up running the company. “What other profession can you go into on the ground floor and then own your own company,” said Barkett.
“If you are good at what you do and work hard at it, you can do what you want.”
The nonprofit organization has been spreading the word about construction industry jobs since it was formed in 1996 by three construction associations who were facing a shortage of 25,000 crafts professionals.
The organization partnered with the state Department of Education. “We began to work together to introduce high school students to the opportunities out there,” Barkett said.
About 80,000 high school students have been exposed to construction trades with the department’s school-to-work program over the years, he said.
Funding comes from the member associations and from a fee on contractor licenses issued by the state.
“We don’t take any state tax dollars,” said Barkett. “And 65 percent of the license fees are from out-of-state contractors. It is a win-win for the state of Mississippi and the industry.”
There are several career paths starting in high school for those interested in a career in construction and industrial maintenance. All the training utilizes the curriculum of the National Center for Construction Education and Research, which is an internationally recognized credential.
“High school students can graduate from a two-year program with a certificate saying they have completed the core basics and have level one certification for a trade,” Barkett said. About 5,000 high school students per year train for the construction and manufacturing field in 106 of the 113 career and tech centers throughout the state.
Those students can go on to a community college to earn a certificate, an associate degree or work in the apprentice program. They can also move on to Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Miss for a construction degree.
MCEF also offers a four-year adult craft training program in which the apprentices work full time with a contractor and go to school one night a week. About 450 adults train each year and 75 companies participate.
Barkett said apprentices don’t incur any debt because most companies pay for their tuition.
“They can earn the same amount starting salary as a new college graduate but without any debt,” he said.
On March 2-4 MCEF will host Skills USA, a statewide high school and community college competition for all construction and manufacturing trades at the Trade Mart in Jackson.
“Over 300 students last year earned the right to come to the state competition,” Barkett said. The winners will represent their school at the national competition.
As part of the event, about 900-plus eighth-graders will participate in a hands-on Passport 2 Careers expo and 125 counselors and superintendents will learn about student training opportunities in career and technical education.
The event will be opened to the public from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3 and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4. The event will be at the Kirk Fordice Equine Center in the Mississippi Fair Grounds.
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