April 21, 2018 10:40:57 PM
When it comes to skilled trade jobs, Mississippi has a culture problem.
It's a problem that many states across the country are dealing with, but one that, if solved, could significantly move the needle forward in the Magnolia State.
That was the principal message delivered at a gathering of business and community leaders in Jackson this week at the 69th-annual meeting of the Mississippi Economic Council.
Speaking to the group gathered at the Jackson Convention Complex, Peyton Holland, executive director of North Carolina-based Skills USA, said that a shift must occur to get students to realize that obtaining a job skill is just as important as obtaining a four-year or graduate degree.
That's not to say the obtainment of a more traditional higher education degree is not valuable. However, the stigma attached to the training and certification required for skilled jobs must vanish in order for Mississippi to move forward. The notion that one is more valuable than the other is what drives a narrative that's leaving opportunities and paychecks open throughout our state.
Data shows there are about 40,000 jobs available throughout Mississippi that require skills training. And these jobs pay above average wages. High-demand skill-based positions in Mississippi average more than $60,000 - almost twice what an entry level private sector job might earn someone.
The MEC, which is the state's chamber of commerce, stressed the importance of developing workforce training and technology skills to close the so-called skills gap. Various studies point out that there are not enough trained workers for various jobs that require specialized skills, as reported by the Daily Journal's Bobby Harrison. Holland said part of the problem is that there is not enough value placed on those professions, such as electricians and welders, that provide a better pay than many jobs where four-year degrees are required.
He said in addition, about half of the college graduates each year end up working in professions where they do not need their four-year degree.
This is obviously not a problem that has one golden solution. Continued investment in workforce development programs and greater communication of what jobs are available are all pieces of this puzzle that need to be examined equally.
But there's one step that must happen first in order for the rest to be successful. We, as Mississippians, must dispel the notion that receiving skills training or working in an industry setting is somehow a lesser achievement. In many cases, these jobs will require work around some of the most sophisticated technology in the country and world. Combine that with a high-end salary, and you can start to see how these positions are truly advanced.
By working to change the culture around technical training, Mississippi has an opportunity to instill in current and future generations the true opportunity available throughout our state.