MI-BEST program seeks to increase skilled labor in Mississippi

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mississippi State Senator Angela Burkes Hill spoke at Pearl River Community College Monday about how the state is looking to increase the skilled workforce. Photo by Julia Arenstam

Mississippi State Senator Angela Burkes Hill spoke at Pearl River Community College Monday about how the state is looking to increase the skilled workforce.
Photo by Julia Arenstam

Mississippi State Senator Angela Burks Hill spoke at Pearl River Community College Monday in support of the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program.
The program, MI-BEST, was implemented at the college as a way for adult basic education students to become better prepared for the workforce.
PRCC President Dr. William Lewis said the program is a “unique network of support for developing the basic education program.”
Lewis said Pearl River County received $600,000 as part of a $6 million grant that was distributed statewide.
As a member of the state senate education committee, a former educator and a PRCC graduate, Hill was introduced by Dr. Scott Alsobrooks as a strong supporter of the program.
“I want every able-bodied citizen in Mississippi to have a job whether they want one or not,” Hill said.
She said she aims to create a pipeline of education leading to the workforce, especially skilled labor, creating “upward mobility” in the state economy.
“I don’t want people already paying taxes to pay more; I want more people paying taxes,” Hill said.
Dianne Lee is enrolled in the MI-BEST program at PRCC and said it helped her in the workforce.
“What we have learned in class is what we do in the workforce,” she said.
Because of her training, she is able to work for Cato, learning how to speak with customers and be persistent, all to support her four children, Lee said.
One out of every five high school students in Mississippi drops out, Hill said, adding that many of those are unable to read.
Hill also spoke about her legislation for the “3rd grade gate,” which requires children to be able to read before they can continue on to fourth grade, she said.
As a result, Mississippi had that largest state increase in fourth grade reading scores, Hill said.
“Let’s put our people to work,” Hill said, eliminating Mississippi as a welfare state.
The MI-BEST program allows students to receive their GED while simultaneously receiving workforce training, helping students see “the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hill said.
She said the program provides timelines and extra support within the program, allowing students to graduate without incurring high student debt.
Brittany Northrop just received her high school equivalency degree last week, she said, having only found out about the program the day before it started.
Northrop said the program increased her confidence and “having the MI-BEST class has really helped,” in her goal to work in the medical field.
“No barrier is going to stop them,” Tina Coleman, who works with the program at PRCC, said.
Hill said the unemployment rate in Pearl River County is currently 5.8 percent. However she said that that figure is not reflective of the labor market in the state because “some people have stopped looking for jobs,” and thereby aren’t factored into the unemployment figure.
She also said that Mississippi currently has a 57 percent workforce participation rate, which is the percentage of working-age people who are employed or seeking employment.
Hill said that as of January 2016, about 40,000 jobs remained unfilled in the state because of a lack of a skilled workforce.
She said this integrated system will “match the jobs to the training…this grant integrates into what we’ve been doing for the last three to four years in workforce development.”
Terri Clark, director of adult education at PRCC, said there were 49 people who have already graduated from the program this semester.
“No matter what kind of situation you’re in, there’s always a way out,” Hill said.

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About Julia Arenstam

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