Meeting the demand for skilled workers will not happen automatically. Communities need to make it a priority.
As I look across Mississippi and see businesses growing and creating good-paying jobs, I am encouraged at the possibilities. There is one thing I am concerned about; it’s whether we will have the workforce needed to keep Mississippi’s economy thriving . Unfortunately, employers across the state are facing a shortage of skilled workers.
Today, Mississippi has thousands of job openings for skilled workers. These are good-paying jobs that provide workers a steady income and great opportunities for advancement. There are a variety of jobs to choose from – a new worker today can find a good job in healthcare, information technology, construction, manufacturing, energy, and more, with little to no experience in the workforce if they are willing to learn a trade skill. Jobs such as diesel mechanic, welder, nurse, pharmacy technician, equipment operator, and other skilled trades are in high demand. These roles offer competitive pay and good benefits.
So, why are so many employers unable to fill positions? Well, one thing we know is that many students today simply do not even know these jobs exist. Additionally, many students believe these jobs are low-paying or low-quality. This is simply not the case, and it’s time for this misperception to be corrected.
That’s why I am excited to hear about what the Skills Foundation of Mississippi is doing. A new non-profit that is working to make students and parents aware of the abundance of good-paying jobs in Mississippi and the necessary skills for obtaining them. The Skills Foundation’s campaign “Skills That Pay” is spreading the word that good-paying jobs are available, and a four-year degree and thousands of dollars in student debt are not the only path to a successful career.
This is a generational opportunity; many skilled industries are looking to grow their workforce. Students graduating high school this spring need to know a pathway exists to begin earning good money quickly and sometimes even immediately, with the potential for advancement and a good salary before they would have even graduated college. With the right skills, some could start out making $50,000 a year.
There are graduates from the Petal High School Lineman program in 2022 who are already making well over $50,000. In a few short years while living here in South Mississippi, these young people will almost certainly make over $100,000. That means someone could make a six-figure income in the same time it would have taken them to finish a four-year degree and without a big pile of debt like so many college students.
Having a skill and applying it every day at work is gratifying. Being highly trained and filling a need brings dignity and a sense of accomplishment. Sadly, too few young adults know about these pathways to success. Moving straight from high school to college is a great fit for many, but not everyone. If college might not be the best route for a student, the options are not as apparent or simple. The Skills Foundation understands this and wants to bridge the gap between employers and students. This is a really important effort!
Meeting the demand for skilled workers will not happen automatically. This will require work. Communities need to make it a priority. This is already happening in the Hattiesburg area as local companies, schools, and leaders are working closely with the Skills Foundation to raise awareness of these opportunities.
For businesses, please make sure to spread the word about the opportunities you offer for new workers and what a career looks like. Attend career days at high schools and colleges and offer internships.
For schools, invite businesses that need skilled workers into the classroom to give students a clear picture of the opportunities in front of them. We are pleased to see many of our local 7th-12th grade students already getting this opportunity. Ask the businesses to send some of their younger skilled workers who can share their experiences. If college recruiters are given time to speak to students, then a local business should have time too.
Let’s show students that there is more than one route to success and encourage them that a strong career and high quality of life is attainable when they pursue skilled professions.