Our attitudes must change to achieve future success

As a former educator, Mike Barkett has seen the tremendous benefits of helping young people find their place in the world. In his current role as president of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, he is working to introduce today’s students to opportunities that await them in career and technical positions.

When fortunetellers claim they can predict the future, in my opinion it’s best to move along and keep your money in your pocket.

But I have no qualms about predicting the future when it comes to construction and manufacturing jobs. Nationally, the U.S. has been facing a shortage of workers in these key fields for several years, and by 2019, Mississippi will need more than 80,000 craft professionals to meet the needs of the state’s growing construction and manufacturing industries.

The country’s skilled-labor shortage has become even more urgent in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which recently devastated parts of Texas and Florida as well as neighboring states. The concern is that many cities in destruction zones could take years and years to rebound because the construction workforce simply isn’t there to help them rebuild.

Mississippians are certainly no strangers to disaster recovery  we know from experience that the type of work involved in rebuilding homes, schools, churches, businesses, industries and communities is resistant to automation. It takes real people equipped with professional skills to get the job done right. 

In August, PBS published an article about the skilled-labor shortage in California and the state’s efforts to encourage more young people to pursue career and technical education.

The article (“After decades of pushing bachelor’s degrees, U.S. needs more tradespeople”) reports that the U.S. has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require bachelor’s degrees, and that people with career and technical educations are slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials. At one California steel company featured in the article, some supervisors without college degrees make as much as $120,000 a year with many on-site electricians reaching the six-figure plateau.

“High schools and community colleges are the keys to filling industrial jobs,” said a workforce expert quoted in the article, “but something needs to change.”

What must change are our attitudes. At the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, we believe the best strategy is to view the skilled-labor shortage not as a problem but as an opportunity. In recent years, MCEF has made headway in raising awareness about the value of career and technical education and the need for more Mississippians to pursue stable, rewarding careers in construction, manufacturing and other skilled trades.

We’re working hard to remove the stigma that is too often associated with career and technical education by reframing these careers in the light they deserve. Modern construction and manufacturing jobs are cutting-edge, technologically advanced, academically rigorous and high paying.

We believe that the more Mississippians know about career and technical education, the more likely they’ll speak positively about construction and manufacturing careers in their communities. When more parents, school leaders and employers become knowledgeable about the rewards of career and technical education, there’s a good chance that more young people across Mississippi will pursue careers in construction and manufacturing.

Throughout October, we’ll be celebrating Careers in Construction Month by inviting the public to discover MCEF and the investments we’re making to ensure that Mississippians are part of the next wave of craftsmen, builders, creators and problem-solvers who make a historic impact on the future of our state.

We encourage you to join us! Learn more about MCEF at http://mcef.net. “Careers in Construction Month” is an initiative of NCCER and Build Your Future ― see http://byf.org for details.

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