Busi­nesses in state ask for fo­cus on worker train­ing

The Sun Herald - - Front Page - BY JEFF AMY

Mis­sis­sippi law­mak­ers and of­fi­cials told busi­ness lead­ers Thurs­day that they’re hear­ing their con­cerns about need­ing more and bet­ter-ed­u­cated work­ers, not­ing ef­forts to im­prove child care and pro­duce more high school grad­u­ates.

The Mis­sis­sippi Eco­nomic Coun­cil, the state’s cham­ber of com­merce, made work­force de­vel­op­ment one of its main pri­or­i­ties in this year’s Leg­is­la­ture as it met Jack­son for its an­nual day at the state capi­tol.

“We truly have to be fo­cus­ing on mak­ing sure we’re giv­ing our cit­i­zens the op­por­tu­nity to re­ally get the skills they need,” said Scott Waller, the coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

The fo­cus comes as un­em­ploy­ment re­mains low in Mis­sis­sippi, mak­ing it harder for busi­nesses to find work­ers eas­ily.

Gov. Phil Bryant and of­fi­cials in his ad­min­is­tra­tion touted ef­forts to ex­pand and im­prove child care, say­ing it would help par­ents en­ter the work­force to­day, as well as lead to bet­tere­d­u­cated work­ers in the next gen­er­a­tion. The state re­cently an­nounced a $10.6 mil­lion grant that it in­tends to use to bet­ter train work­ers at child care cen­ters and also help low-in­come fam­i­lies find ed­u­ca­tion and work­force train­ing pro­grams.

“We work with the en­tire fam­ily,” Bryant said of the state Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices.

Bryant’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is also aid­ing some large busi­nesses in set­ting up child care cen­ters as a way to en­able par­ents to en­ter the work­force, cit­ing Mil­wau­kee Tool in Green­wood as one ex­am­ple.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard Ben­nett, both Repub­li­cans, lauded Mis­sis­sippi’s im­prov­ing per­for­mance on a na­tion­wide test of read­ing and math skills, as well as the state’s im­prov­ing high school grad­u­a­tion rate.

“That’s 3,000 kids who have a to­tally dif­fer­ent out­look on life,” Reeves said of high school se­niors who will grad­u­ate this year who wouldn’t have grad­u­ated when more stu­dents flunked out.

The coun­cil also wants stu­dents to get more in­for­ma­tion on how to make ca­reer choices ear­lier in school. Waller said he’d like to see more op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to take the ACT Work Keys as­sess­ment, which helps mea­sure work­place skills. He also cited an ini­tia­tive by Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp. and the Cre­ate Foun­da­tion in eight north­east Mis­sis­sippi school dis­tricts to pro­vide ca­reer coaches to help high school sopho­mores ex­plore pos­si­ble work­place fu­tures.

The coun­cil is also in­ter­ested in fur­ther im­prove­ments to early child­hood learn­ing, but Waller said it doesn’t now have any par­tic­u­lar poli­cies it’s seek­ing.

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