Hattiesburg, Miss. (Lamar Times)
Business owners across Mississippi are coming together to work on two problems: too many high school seniors are waiting until after graduation to figure out a career path, and the businesses themselves aren’t doing a great job of connecting with students to educate them about the workforce.
To help figure out the solutions, local and state officials – including Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann – attended a Pine Belt Partners in Education Summit last week at Hattiesburg High School. The meeting, which was sponsored by the Mississippi Association of Partners in Education, gave employers, education directors, superintendents and community college workforce development coordinators the chance to learn about school/business partnerships that create better opportunities for Mississippi students.
“We’re excited to be partnering with MAPE and the Secretary of State’s office … as we continue to build partnerships and prepare our students for life beyond high school,” said Robert Williams, Superintendent of the Hattiesburg Public School District. “This event directly supports the mission of the Hattiesburg Public School District, which is to educate all students.
“For us, it simply means when students graduate high school, they’re ready to enroll in an institution of higher learning of their choice, enlist in a branch of service or be gainfully employed so they can support themselves or their families.”
In a survey conducted by Hosemann’s office of limited liability companies and corporations throughout the state, 30 to 35 percent of the 2,000 employers who returned the survey said their most important need was an educated workforce. That need was followed by community support, competitor information, consumer information, biographical data, banks and infrastructure.
Rounding out the list was state and local incentives, which placed at No. 11 on the survey.
“We don’t have to give away Mississippi – they have people that want to work here,” Hosemann said. “Because where does that money come from? It comes from education.
“So when we go to look at state and local incentives, we need to remember that it’s the eleventh thing that people are thinking about. If you’ll give me an educated workforce, and your community wants me to be there, that’s 50 percent of being there.”
Katie McCrary, co-owner of McCrary-West Construction in Columbus, said hers and other companies in the area have begun going to local schools to find out how to produce students ready for the workforce.
“We listen to their needs, they listen to our needs,” she said. “We kind of found a common ground.
“We formed relationships with superintendents, we formed relationships with (Career and Technical Education) counselors, we formed relationships with teachers, we formed relationships with students. We spent time, and it takes time – educators have to be patient with industry, and industry has to be patient with educators.”
Paige Roberts, co-founder of Pathways2Possibilities – a Biloxi-based career expo for 8th-graders and at-risk youth – discussed how that program bridges the gap between employers and educators. The initiative’s recent Gold Post event, for example, was divided into 19 career pathways that aligned with the Federal Department of Education and the Mississippi Department of Education.
On hand were professionals from each of the 19 career pathways, who facilitated hands-on activities for the students.
“So number one, it’s three-dimensional career exploration, which means getting all five senses involved in that skill set,” Roberts said. “What does it take to be successful in that job? What is the education? What is the training?
“We had, at just last month’s event, 130 employers who do those activities for our 7,000 8th-graders over a two-day period.”