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Mississippi Dept. of Education meets...

Mississippi Dept. of Education meets with business leaders to discuss workforce needs

By: Jeremy Pittari - December 19, 2023

Interim State Superintendent Raymond Morgigno and other directors with the Mississippi Department of Education met with business leaders to ensure the state's education system is meeting the work force's needs. Photo from MDE Facebook

Expanding the ACT WorkKeys in more Mississippi schools seen as a useful tool for students and employers.

To ensure the needs of Mississippi’s workforce are being met, directors of the Mississippi Department of Education and Interim State Superintendent Raymond Morgigno participated in an advisory meeting last week with business and workforce development leaders in the Magnolia State.

The meeting demonstrated to Morgigno that the state’s workforce needs to be more than just educated; those individuals also need to be responsible employees who arrive on time when scheduled and have the ability to work as a team. 

Morgigno said the meeting is part of an effort by MDE to ensure children leave the state’s public K-12 education system knowing about the different opportunities available to them while ensuring they succeed. The discussion was also an opportunity for business leaders to share the types of life skills they expect in their employees. 

Some of the employers represented at the December 13th meeting included school districts, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Nissan, National Guard Association of Mississippi, Mississippi Economic Council, Ingalls Shipbuilding, AccelerateMS, Wayne-Sanderson Farms, and Camgian. 

“It’s just where we kind of bring a lot of folks together and really take a look at our state and the needs of our state and then how we can work together to best meet those needs, you know. And that’s in essence what we’ve been trying to do – just having some real good honest conversations with each other,” Morgigno said.

During the meeting, employers indicated a desire to hire people with the commonsense skills of being on time, having the ability to carry on conversations, and the drive to take initiative. 

“We just want to make sure the kids, you know, come out with that sense of responsibility. That you show up on time, that you show up every day, that you can work well with others,” Morgigno stated.

Some programs already being offered in a number of school districts that teach such skills include the Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC). Morgigno said there have been discussions about whether to move that program under the Career and Technical Education umbrella. However, not every school district has a JROTC program. Talks of how to partner with the military to expand the number of those programs in the state are in the works.

Since many junior and seniors in Mississippi high schools have the opportunity to work a job during part of their school day, there were discussions about how pre-intern programs could provide young people with hands-on experience while supplying employers with personnel. 

More school districts could also offer the ACT WorkKeys test to students interested in entering the workforce. Morgigno said a student who passes that test with a silver or above can usually find a job right out of high school making $25 an hour. 

“You know, some of these opportunities are right here in Mississippi but also we learned Ingalls uses WorkKeys and so do other companies,” Morgigno said.

Since companies can use WorkKeys results to find qualified personnel, Morgigno would like to see more school districts offer the test to students. If the decision was made to offer ACT WorkKeys to every high school junior in the state, he estimates it might cost an additional $200,000 in reimbursements to school districts. Currently, the state allocates about $1 million to reimburse schools districts that currently offer the test.

There is also a shortage of young people enlisting in the National Guard. 

“There’s a shortage of folks wanting to enter the military and, you know, we can’t push everybody to the military, but it is good for them to know it’s out there,” Morgigno elaborated. “It’s just trying to make sure that our kids know all the different options that are out there because there’s quite a few options in our state.”

He added that Camgian offers technology-based jobs and UMMC offers jobs in health care, so there are a variety of career paths to choose from.

All of the information gathered at these meetings is shared with superintendents across the state. 

About the Author(s)
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Jeremy Pittari

Jeremy Pittari is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. Born and raised in Slidell, La., he moved to South Mississippi in the early 90s. Jeremy earned an associate in arts from Pearl River Community College and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor's of arts in journalism. A week after Hurricane Katrina, he started an internship as a reporter with the community newspaper in Pearl River County. After graduation, he accepted a full-time position at that news outlet where he covered the recovery process post Katrina in Pearl River and Hancock Counties. For nearly 17 years he wrote about local government, education, law enforcement, crime, business and a variety of other topics. Email Jeremy:
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