Workforce training takes center stage in Pine Belt


The importance of workforce training will be spotlighted next week when a $250,000 grant will be presented to Pearl River Community College officials at the Hattiesburg branch as state and Area Development Partnership representatives take part.

The Lamar County Board of Supervisors were briefed about the grant in December, and the formal presentation will take place at noon Thursday. County Administrator Joseph “Jody” Waits said in February – Career and Technical Education Month – that workforce training is “critical.”

“Pearl River Community College has really stepped up,” he said at the time. “(PRCC President) Dr. Adam Breerwood has risen to the task. About this time last year, there was some discussion about it, tours taken of a facility in the northeastern part of the state and some of it was taken to heart.”

PRCC worked with local officials to concentrate on the training needed to fill jobs.

“The ADP did a study and said, ‘This is what the industry is saying we need,’” Waits said. “They took it to PRCC and they said they would deliver it.”

Tina Byrd, director of the Lamar County Center for Technical Education, said investing in a skilled workforce is critical for economic development in the state.

“Mississippi needs more big companies, and we have room,” she said. “But they are not going to come here unless we have the workforce educated to fill positions. That’s what we are trying to work on.”

Byrd said one problem among students is in their perception.

“A lot of our students are from rural areas, so they are only familiar with their own little worlds,” she said. “We try to show them videos and career pathways. If you want to see what CTE offers in high school, there’s a lot more than we have here.”

One area that LCCTE will be focusing on next week is the auto mechanics classes. A National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation inspector will be at the school March 26-27 to assess the facility. NATEF is a nationally-recognized program accreditation for automotive service technology education.

“If we pass, we will be a NATEF site,” Byrd said. “So, CTE is moving more toward getting industry credentials when they graduate. It’s not just any elective; it’s more technical.”

According to Jennie Noonkester, Hattiesburg High School CTE Student Services director, PRCC has stepped up by providing scholarships to deserving students. Students with a 3.0 grade point average can earn half of their tuition at Pearl River Community College, she said; a 3.5 GPA earns a full tuition.

Noonkester said workforce training now reaches into the ninth grade, where students have declared an “endorsement” – a curriculum of studies designed toward a graduation goal.

“One of them is a Career and Technical Education endorsement and they can have an academic endorsement,” she said. “We are toward WorkKeys readiness, which is an ACT curriculum. They can take a test and get their WorkKeys endorsement, which shows that they are college and career ready. A lot of industries recognize that certification. So that’s something statewide that they are working toward.”

ACT WorkKeys includes 12 workplace skill assessments:

•          Applied Mathematics – applying mathematical reasoning to work-related problems.

•          Applied Technology – understanding technical principles as they apply to the workplace.

•          Business Writing – composing clear, well-developed messages relating to on-the-job situations.

•          Listening – being able to listen to and understand work-related messages.

•          Locating Information – using information from sources such as diagrams, floor plans, tables, forms, graphs, and charts.

•          Workplace Observation – paying attention to details in instructions and demonstrations.

•          Reading for Information – comprehending work-related reading materials such as memos, bulletins, policy manuals, and governmental regulations.

•          Teamwork – choosing behavior that furthers workplace relationships and accomplishes work tasks.

•          Writing - measures the skills individuals use when they write messages that relay workplace information between people.

•          Performance – related to attitudes toward work and the person’s tendency to engage in unsafe work behaviors.

•          Talent – includes dependability, assertiveness, and emotional stability.

•          Fit – how interests and values correspond to a particular career.

The job analysis component of ACT WorkKeys helps to set benchmarks that correspond with WorkKeys scores, giving the student a target score to hit in order to qualify for a job.

Employers use job analysis to determine which skills are required for a job, and the level of each skill needed to perform the job successfully. This helps employers determine the standards for how an applicant must score in a particular WorkKeys skill assessment in order to be qualified for the job.

As an incentive to nonprofit organizations, a bill in Congress now would allow a credit against tax for charitable donations to nonprofit organizations providing workforce training and education scholarships to qualified elementary and secondary students.

The USA Workforce Tax Credit Act would help U.S. businesses and individuals who wish to support scholarships for students who want to pursue better learning opportunities at every level and would allow a tax credit for their contribution. This would jumpstart development of critical programs to give workers access to the education they and their families need.