By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
Picayune Mayor and Economic Development Director Dr. Ed Pinero and Pearl River Community College Vice president Dr. Scott Alsobrooks share a vision of economic growth and prosperity for the Pearl River County area through industry relocation. It is a vision which is also shared by Pearl River County Supervisor Patrick Lee.
While the vision is there and momentum is gaining, there are some very real concerns which the group say need to be addressed, sooner than later, to assure the vision is realized. They do not want to see the county and its residents overlooked in benefits of jobs and standard of living due to a lack of skilled workforce.
“We have put a team together to attract industry; when we are out attracting potential industry relocators to our county, skilled workforce is a huge concern,” says Lee.
Pinero says, “We are fielding calls daily about Pearl River County. We are on the state, national and international radar. Things are happening for us now but we have to get our workforce in place for this to be successful.”
Alsobrooks agrees with the assessment of Pinero and Lee.
“The issue is lack of skilled of skilled workforce for the county. PRCC has potential employers begging us for them and at times we don’t have enough people to fill a class. We have had full classes of linemen hired the day after they graduate from the same employer who desperately needs more just like them but we need bodies to fill the spaces.
According to www.medes.ms.gov, Pearl River County December 2012 statistics show unemployment at 9.6 percent which is five percent above state average at 9.1.
Alsobrooks says, “The challenge of not enough skilled workforce is the decimation of the high school vo-tech programs of yesteryear. In the academic workforce, teachers are taught to teach the students to work towards the four-year-degree; they teach off the state exit exam and do not adjust for those students whose aptitude may lean towards a skilled trade career path.
“We are competing with all of these other counties and states who can fill the need for this type of labor. Industry is coming; it is only a matter of “when.” The only thing to hinder this happening expediently is our work force supply. We need to get started with vocational programs in high school and hopefully coordinate that with community colleges for credit towards certification and degree.”
All say the transformation of local work force will need to begin on a high school level.
“The fact is that we have great teachers who have their hands tied while they are trying to teach. This makes morale low. The students are frustrated from the pressure and know that state testing does nothing to get them to college like an ACT score will. Many show up for college needing a year of remedial courses before they can even begin their degree work. Why are we not teaching more on the ACT,” asks Pinero.
“I’m an advocate of using the ACT as an exit exam. The current state testing does nothing but set students up for failure. I believe teachers in the Pearl River County area can hold their own with any in the state. But they are restricted to teaching the state test and not enough ACT,” State Senator and State Education Committee member Tony Smith says.
Glenn East, Superintendent of the Gulfport School District describes how his district has changed the focus of curriculum.
“We are piloting the Common Core State Standards through a program called Excellence for All. We dove into through K-12 instead of incrementally as other school districts have done. We embrace the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) Assessment.”
Through PARCC, state leaders pursue one fundamental goal. They work to build their collective capacity to dramatically increase the rates at which students graduate from high school prepared for success in college and the workplace. http://www.parcconline.org/parcc-assessment
“We have also piloted with the state to use Career Pathway. It is a program through which we give our 7th graders the ACT Explore. which focuses on potential career options for the student’s future once the test has been taken. The 8th and 9th take ACT Plan and our Juniors take the ACT. A 20 or higher score opens up other options which could be community college credits plus other credits. They will be on a career pathway.”
The ACT website— http://www.act.org, describes the ACT Explore test as one which focuses on potential career options for the student’s future once it has been completed. The site describes the ACT Plan as a test which measures academic progress in ACT readiness and serves to highlight needed areas of future focus for maximum achievement.
East says, “We are wrapping up our second year. This April we will get our first hard growth data.”
He says they still give the exit exam as they are required; but that is not their focus when they teach their students. The scholarships and readiness will come through success with the ACT, regardless of what form of path the student chooses. This enables those students with high aptitude for skilled trade to move forward with their career path.
Alsobrooks says, “30 percent of available jobs require B.S.; 60 percent require post secondary degrees and only ten percent are unskilled. It is obvious that our labor force supply is out of balance with the need.
Patrice Guilfoyle from the of Office of Educational Accountability, says, “We are moving away from a one size fits all career path. There are dramatic reforms coming the to the Mississippi education system in the next year. Not all students are on the four-year-degree track. We will have something for those who want another track such as a skilled trade.
“The Accountability Task Force is appointed by the state board of education will be meeting Wednesday, February 13th and Tuesday, February 19th. We are currently in the middle of restructuring and reevaluating standards. The ACT is a part of that conversation.”