By Bob Arnold
Co-Lin, which has significantly broadened its role in economic development in recent years beyond
preparing students to enter the workforce, will participate in two new statewide initiatives this year to lure new industry to Mississippi.
Today the college focuses on the future economy as well as the here and now, and in the coming year will support and implement programs to advance the goals of the Mississippi Economic Council’s Accelerate Mississippi and Woodward Hines Education Foundation’s “Ascent to 55,” Co-Lin Workforce Education Director Luke Laird reports.
Accelerate Mississippi is a state-managed effort that seeks to promote and deliver workforce education and advance economic development through localized assistance in eight distinct regional “ecosystems” to organize customized programs that share best practices, improve communication and enhance collaboration to address the particulars of the market data, supply chain needs, available educational resources and regional/community assets.
“Ascent to 55’ defines a goal that 55 percent of the state’s working adults earn a degree, credential or certification beyond a high school diploma.
Co-Lin, Laird says, is spending $1.5 million provide for Accelerate Mississippi to improve Workforce Education programs in commercial truck driving, welding, fiber splicing, and power line repair.
“We’re investing the money to improve and expand training in areas that will produce workers for new and expanding industry in southwest Mississippi, which include Accelerate Mississippi’s Ecosystems 5 and 7,” says Laird. “The region will need more commercial truck drivers with experience in different vehicles as it becomes a major transportation hub with more shipping in and out of Gulf ports and the importance of the Mississippi River, our railroads and the interstate highway infrastructure increases. The need for welders who can meet changing requirements of maintenance operations in new and existing industries as new technologies are introduced is a constant. With the push nationally to bring broadband to rural areas and to power new vehicles with electricity, the need for skilled workers who can install fiber optic cable and lineman who can maintain the electrical grid is growing.”
The college’s purchases for classes will assure students are exposed to the most up-to-date technologies and tools in their field, Laird points out. Students will handle vehicles equipped with computerized systems that automate driving. In power line repair classes, a new bucket truck will expose linemen in training to equipment
they will find when they go to work in the field. Fiber optics splicing tools will prepare students to readily work on building modern internet networks.
“A cost-saver for the college that will also broaden exposure of students to equipment and technology will be simulators that provide augmented reality and virtual reality experiences,” Laird says. “Welding students, for example, will put on helmets that place them in simulated work situations that provide training not available in the classroom.”
Historically, the Career and Technical and Workforce Education divisions of Co-Lin have produced the region’s workers by training people for existing and new jobs and assuring they are equipped with the knowledge and skills for changing work requirements throughout its service area encompassing Adams, Copiah, Franklin, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lincoln and Simpson Counties. The college’s Career and Technical Division continues to offer two-year degree programs so students can take their place in the area labor force and its Workforce Training Division continues to respond to business needs for ongoing and special training so workers have current skills and knowledge to do their jobs safely and productively.
Every year, more than 700 students take courses that are part of Co-Lin Technical and Career programs, more than 5,000 first-time students enroll in Workforce Education classes for job-specific training, and more than 17,000 students return for additional Workforce Education classes.
In addition to the programs that are the focus this year’s Accelerate Mississippi spending, the college’s certificate and Associate Degree programs include construction equipment operation, cosmetology, diesel equipment technology, food production and management technology, HVAC technology, practical nursing, precision machine technology, Business and Marketing Management Technology, Business and Office
Technology, Computer Networking Technology, Drafting and Design Technology/Architectural Engineering Technology, Early Childhood Education Technology, Electronics Technology, Hotel and Restaurant Management
Technology, Medical Laboratory Technology, Medical Radiological Technology, Military Technology and Respiratory Care Technology.
The focus this year on preparing workers for the future economy continues Co-Lin’s orientation in recent years to go the extra mile and leave a bigger footprint in economic development. Among other things, it is partnering with Southwest Community College in Summit to bring together economic development leaders from the region they serve to explore strategic planning and cooperative efforts in recruiting new employers. The college has also sought to assist entrepreneurs in advancing business concepts and supports the ACT Work Ready program in the seven Co-Lin district counties by administering the WorkKeys Assessment to certify their emerging, existing and transitional workforces as “Work Ready.”
This year will again see Co-Lin and Southwest Community College (SCC) hosting meetings of the Southwest Council on economic development. Two representatives from each of the 11 participating counties will attend meetings where they will conduct a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis towards delineating objectives, goals, strategies and tactics in a strategic plan to guide cooperative
economic development activities in southwest Mississippi. There will be at least two meetings, with the representatives coming from Co-Lin’s district counties and the SCC district, including Amite, Walthall, Pike and Wilkinson Counties.
The idea is to cultivate a mindset that there is strength numbers, and a regional voice can recruit new business, support business expansion and create jobs similar to what is happening on the Gulf Coast, in the Hinds-Madison Counties area, around DeSoto County and in the Golden Triangle area around Tupelo. One possibility is identifying a super site as a location for a major employer and jointly market it.
Another highlight of Co-Lin’s economic development activity this year comes early with its long-standing Pathway Job Fair. On March 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., some 100 employers will be on hand at the Thames Center on the college’s Wesson campus to meet job-seekers. Today, prospective employees and hiring organizations alike use Handshake, an online service on which they can complete and then engage,
connecting before the event to make appointments for serious conversations. Job-seekers discover jobs and internships, receive direct messages from employers about jobs and events, connect with employees at organizations and get an inside look at employers and jobs.
Although it has been held annually for more than two decades, the job fair is a dramatic visible illustration of Co-Lin’s work in economic development grounded in building partnerships and relationships with movers and shakers in the economy. Its continuing growth highlights college’s growing engagement with economic issues and
advancing economic development.