Workforce Training Remains Top Priority Among Business Leaders

An available and skilled workforce is essential in helping grow Mississippi’s economy.

The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) continues to gauge the importance of vital issues in securing Mississippi’s economic future. We have seen great progress in workforce development, and there is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our workforce and provide more pathways to prosperity for Mississippians. 

There is a strong commitment from Governor Tate Reeves, Lieutenant. Governor Delbert Hosemann, Speaker of the House Jason White, and the Mississippi Legislature to intensify efforts to advance our workforce. Even though recent initiatives are still in their infancy, the work currently underway is already gaining national attention. 

Four years ago, Mississippi didn’t have a coordinated workforce effort. While there were pockets of success, there wasn’t a genuinely statewide effort that aligned the needs of business and industry with a holistic approach to training until the formation of the Mississippi Office of Workforce Development in the spring  of 2021. 

Now branded AccelerateMS, the office is conducting a deep dive into how funding for workforce development was being used and examining return on investment. Separate legislation was passed, creating a statewide K-12 career coach program that is overseen by Accelerate.

The department is in the process of carrying out this charge, which will help lay the groundwork for building a stronger workforce. While understanding and implementing the needed changes will not happen overnight, there is already strong confidence among business and community leaders that we are moving in a positive direction.

As the State Chamber of Commerce, MEC understands that one of the most critical components in developing policy solutions is receiving consistent feedback from leaders across the state. This year, as part of the MEC Amplify Tour, we are conducting a formal survey to gauge opinions on key issues facing our state.  

The initial results from the survey were recently released at MEC’s 75th Annual Meeting. Business and community leaders ranked Workforce & Workforce Training, K-12 Education, and Talent Retention and Attraction as their top three priorities. The survey also shows optimism about the state’s economy, as nearly three-quarters of Mississippians polled believe the state is headed in the right direction. 

One of the most encouraging results of the survey is that 53% believe Mississippi is doing a good job preparing the workforce that businesses need. While this might only be a slight majority, it is a significant shift compared to previous polling. Just years ago, when MEC was doing research for its 2022 report “Securing Mississippi’s Future: Vision for Economic Growth,” the ability to have an available and skilled workforce was seen as a major concern.

The shift is a tribute to the work at Accelerate and the overall emphasis placed on workforce development by MEC and other partnering organizations that understand the importance of building a quality workforce for the future.

Stephen Moret, President & CEO of Strada Education Foundation, highlighted Mississippi’s focus on career coaching. When discussing the release of Strada’s State Opportunity Index on the Harvard Business School’s “Managing the Future of Work” podcast, Moret was asked if there were any policy initiatives at the state level that he wanted to mention. He responded, “I think targeted efforts to expand access to quality coaching in high schools and colleges, big opportunity there. I think one place to watch at the high school level is Mississippi. They are actually one of the first states doing this for high schools, overall, some really nice effects so far.”

Strada’s State Opportunity Index provides quantifiable indicators to support a stronger connection between education and opportunity. This information will be essential in helping improve workforce policies and practices.

Mississippi is headed in the right direction in developing an available and skilled workforce. To truly reach our goal and achieve the desired outcomes will require persistence, patience, and commitment. 

Scott Waller is President and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council—the State Chamber of Commerce. MEC has been the voice of Mississippi business since 1949. MEC deals with broad business issues through advocacy, research, resources and leadership. For more information go to www.mec.ms

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