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Workforce development and education are at the forefront of economic development efforts in the Greater Hattiesburg region. Led through partnerships between Pearl River Community College and the Area Development Partnership, these efforts are being undertaken to assist everyone from middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to older-adult students seeking diplomas and degrees to become workforce ready.

David Collum chairs the Career and Technical Education Programs at the Hattiesburg campus of Pearl River Community College, teaching both “traditional” and “non-traditional” college students a variety of highly technical skills that can be used across a multitude of applications.

  Conventional wisdom says that to pursue a rewarding career and make good money, you need at least a bachelor’s degree. In an era when manufacturing has become automated  and employers struggle to fill the skills gap, that’s no longer true.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need specialized training to land a good job. To meet the needs of both would-be workers and would-be employers, a wide variety of career and technical education programs are available in the Hattiesburg area.

“There’s a shortage of skilled industrial workers across the country,” noted Daniel Jayroe, vice president for community development at the Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership. “Because of misconceptions, we don’t have as many people going into skilled trades. In manufacturing, a lot of people are afraid of automation taking away jobs. But it’s only transforming jobs. People are being paid much more in manufacturing than they used to be.”

  Meanwhile, companies across the country often find themselves unable to find enough people with the hi-tech manufacturing skills they need.

Jayroe said job-skills training begins in the seven school districts that serve the Greater Hattiesburg regions’ K-12 students. “Every February, eighth- and ninth-graders are invited to a hands-on, interactive career fair carried out by the ADP called Jumpstart to Success. At Jumpstart, students can sample the possible career pathways that are available to them after high school, whether that pathway may be obtaining a career credential or a two- or four-year degree from a local college or university.”

The young teens may be inspired to think about the field of information technology because of their interactions with a robot equipped with artificial intelligence. Students can talk to police officers and firefighters about possible careers in law enforcement and public safety. A bucket truck hints at the excitement of a job in utilities. Other pathways sampled include tourism, education, business & finance, health care, agriculture and manufacturing.

Students a few years younger can attend a two-week summer camp hosted by Pearl River Community College for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. “Campers will be able to see modern manufacturing first-hand, learn how to design a product, learn to code and see some 3-D printing,” Collum said.

“A lot of people don’t understand what modern manufacturing is like,” Collum said. “By the time students reach high school, most of them will have made up their minds on a career pathway without really knowing what jobs are out there.” He hopes that by introducing students to the career possibilities in manufacturing early, he can break the stigma often associated with blue collar work.

Sometimes the skills learned in a classroom from technical-based instruction aren’t the only thing that’s standing between a young person and a job offer. A lack of “soft skills” can also create a barrier to employment or difficulty on the job. To combat issues with soft skills, the ADP partners with local businesses, the United Way of Southeast Mississippi, The University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University to offer a one-day conference-style program for high-school juniors called Mission: Possible. At Mission: Possible, the 11th-graders learn how to write a resume and a cover letter, do well in an interview, interact professionally and communicate effectively.

A third ADP program, “Teachers in the Workplace,” is aimed at teachers and counselors at the middle-school and high-school level. “We show our educators what jobs are available in each field in the Greater Hattiesburg area, how much pay someone in that field can expect, what type of education someone must have to qualify, etc.,” Jayroe said. “It’s all about educating our educators about the opportunities available in our region.”

After high school, entering a workforce program or degree-track program at Pearl River Community College would be a wise choice for many people.

“We have many career and technical education programs on our campus, each with 20 to 40 students in it at any one time,” Collum said. “We also do workforce training for the workers at specific companies. Just today I was doing some robotic training for one of the local manufacturers. The company’s employees are coming to our lab for four days of instruction, eight hours a day.”

“PRCC incorporates work-based learning opportunities with local industries to provide CTE students an internship experience while enrolled in the program of choice,” said Terri Clark, the college’s dean of workforce and community development. “Work-based learning allows students the hands-on training of skills taught within the classroom. The sooner a student is involved in ‘real-world’ experiences, the likelihood of them succeeding in the field increases.”

PRCC programs that help fill the skills gap being experienced by employers include industrial technology; electronics engineering technology; biomedical equipment repair; welding and metal fabrication; and heating, ventilating and air conditioning.

“Our students typically get multiple job offers,” Collum said. “There are more job openings than we can fill. Most of them are going to make in the $50,000 to $60,000 range starting out.”

“PRCC offers the MS Works Smart Start to Career certification within the Adult Education Department,” Clark added. “This 45-hour certification allows students to learn essential employability skills, career awareness and the ACT National Career Readiness certificate. This is a no-cost program available for anyone needing pre-employment training.

“PRCC Adult Education also offers a full-time, no-cost High School Equivalency (GED) program. Adult Education graduates more than 300 adults each year who earn their High School Equivalency diploma and a work certification,” Clark said.

If you or someone you know has any interest in
starting or continuing your education, contact Pearl River Community College by visiting www.prcc.edu or emailing workforce@prcc.edu.
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