The announcement of a $971,000 grant to a community college’s diesel mechanic program is the first step in the upgrade of Mississippi’s job-training efforts.
Gulf Coast Community College is getting the money to expand its diesel mechanic program from 20 students to 40. According to Mississippi Today, this is because the state needs a lot more mechanics.
Each year from 2017 to 2020, the website reported, an average of 106 people completed diesel technician programs in Mississippi. But the average number of jobs open in that field during those four years was 526. Adding 20 more people to the Gulf Coast program will help — but there’s a long way to go.
Gulf Coast is getting the money from Accelerate Mississippi, the state’s new workforce development agency. Starting in July, the agency took control of a $25 million job training fund, along with other money. The grant program is Accelerate Mississippi’s first venture into distributing job-training funds.
As those diesel mechanic job openings indicated, the state needed to rethink what it was doing. Legislation in 2020 gave Accelerate Mississippi more flexibility to distribute job-training funds than the Mississippi Community College Board had when it was in charge of the program.
Ryan Miller, Accelerate Mississippi’s executive director, said the agency is trying to send money and resources to specific areas, including job fields where there are a large number of vacancies for jobs that offer above-average pay.
Miller told Mississippi Today that $10 million of the $25 million fund will be aimed at instruction for in-demand jobs. A significant change in guidelines for job-training money will point more of it toward fields like diesel engine maintenance, where jobs are available. Previously, the guidelines for funding favored requests from employers and people who already had jobs.
It ought to help that Accelerate Mississippi has a specific task, while job training was one of many things supervised by the Community College Board. Last year, Mississippi Today reported that about 25% of the job-training money overseen by the board paid for occupational safety training that the law generally requires. More to the point, safety training doesn’t add much to employees’ work skills, and the money wasn’t being spent to help more people find jobs.
There have got to be other job categories that require specialized training, that pay well, and that have a relatively high number of vacancies around the state. Accelerate Mississippi is right on target in its decision to aim more of its money at these fields.
One of the agency’s biggest challenges may be to distribute its job-training money fairly. It’s not going to help the whole state, especially the small-town and rural areas, if the vast majority of the funding goes to the biggest markets.
To put it more directly, every single county in Mississippi needs better-trained workers. Hopefully Accelerate Mississippi will keep this in mind as it allocates its money.