Lately, local industry CEOs and human resource managers have been talking about the difficulty they see in finding enough technically trained personnel to hire, and also dealing with younger employees who lack, for perhaps a better term, a work ethic.
Northeast Mississippi Community College is attempting to counter both these problems with two relatively new and different programs.
One is known as “C2C” and that stands for “Counseling to Career.” It is led by Charlie Smart, who teaches the Adult Basic Education/GED classes as well as being a C2C counselor.
The other is called “TAACT,” which is “Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative.” It is led by Shawn Davis.
The latter teaches technical skills needed to do specific jobs well while the first teaches “soft” skills that one needs to do any job well, Smart said.
“C2C is in its third year,” he said. Federal funding for this program, in the amount of $367,500, has been provided through the Mississippi Partnership Workforce Investment Area and Three Rivers Planning and Development District.
The goal is to improve learning and working skills that can lead to job or college.
“I’ve seen some really good results from C2C,” Smart said. “We are fortunate to have good relations with local employers. They are fantastic to work with and 80 percent of our C2C graduates get jobs, sometimes with their same employers.”
“The big thing is they get a paid work experience,” Smart said.
The C2C program is open to those ages 14 to 21 and in a low-income situation, he said.
Because of funding, the program is limited to 105 in the school’s five-county area, 20 in Union County.
C2C focus more on “skills that you need to have to be good at anything,” Smart said. That includes things like teamwork, decision-making and time management.
He calls them “success” skills and gives students instruction on body language, communication and so forth, explaining why they are important.
“Lots of students really have not seen a whole lot of work,” Smart said. “Sometimes they feel like it just doesn’t matter.”
As a result, he spends a lot of time in class on “optimism.” “Optimism is not just not assuming the worst, but thinking of possibilities. What do I have control over? What can I do?” he said.
“In my experience, two things they get good at,” Smart said. “The skill of attention, seeing what needs to be done. And optimism.”
Optimism for Smart also involves “the way you explain the world to yourself.”
“You can work as hard as you want but if deep down inside you think you can’t, you are wasting your time,” he said. “It is not a Pollyannaish thing, but about what is possible rather than what is not possible.” Explain the world to yourself in a way that makes sense.
C2C classes are held year-round but start in July. He usually has five to 10 students in a class, three to four classes during the year.
Participants have seven weeks of training followed by 12 weeks of actual work at a participating business. They attend classes in the afternoon for seven weeks and can be taking GED classes in the morning, if needed.
There is no cost to participants. Anyone interested should call Smart at 662-692-1505.
If C2C deals in “soft” skills, then TAACT is concerned with hard, technical skills.
TAACT is led by Shawn Davis with funding by the Department of Labor Gulf States Consortium Grant, Mississippi Community College Board and Northeast Mississippi Community College, with money made available after the Gulf oil spill.
“We were fortunate enough to be a part of it,” Smart said.
It’s goal is the development and expansion of innovative training programs that promote “skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.”
TAACT is open to a broader pool of people than C2C. In fact, it is open to almost everyone.
Participants can choose one of three high-demand career pathways, all connected with technology, and all leading to valuable certifications. The three fields are medical billing, industrial maintenance and microcomputers and information systems technology.
“These don’t require a high school diploma or GED to be in them,” Smart said. Participants can work on both is need be while in the program. All the classes are in New Albany and all businesses that work with the programs are local.
In any case, it’s the hands-on experience that may prove most valuable. “That’s where they learn,” Smart said. “You never really learn anything until you apply it.”
The TAACT classes may be in New Albany, but the instructors may not.
These three new classes use technology they call the “Polycom.” It is a type of video conferencing using a very large screen TV that displays the instructor’s teaching material, such as a PowerPoint presentation. A small window in the corner shows the instructor and a camera on top of the screen allows the instructor to see the local class. The camera is set to automatically follow the instructor or, alternately, the loudest noise as someone asks a question.
They also use a team approach with the remote instructor supported by a local instructor or “coach” present in the classroom here to provide extra help.
“Students can speak back and forth and, before long, the instructor and class can develop a fairly intimate relationship,” Davis said.
Those in the TAACT classes have the option of dual enrollment and if they pass exams, receive college credit.
But Davis points out that the various certifications students can achieve are extremely important.
“You can have credit by certification on almost anything,” he said. “Degree is not the focus anymore,” Smart added.
And participants may well be old rather than young.
“For some, job requirements are changing,” he said. “They will be let go if they don’t get certain certification.”
A TAACT class may result in a new or better job, but it also may guarantee keeping an old one.
So far, there is no time limit on availability of any of these programs.
“We plan to continue them,” Smart said. “We have seen students learn some very valuable skills.”
Anyone interested in one of the three TAACT programs should call Davis at 720-7574.
While the focus now may be on “soft” and technical skills, both continue to remind people of the value of a GED.
“We can always use more GED students,” Smart said. “Especially since the new test January 1.”
A version of the test that had been used for years was replaced.
“It is more complex,” Smart said. “People are not used to reading complex texts.”
They say the GED goal is to at least increase one grade or learning level.
“The GED has four sections. Sometimes a student just needs to succeed in one section to be motivated, and he can often catch up then,” Davis said.
GED classes are free, offered both day and night, and tests can be paid for if the student scores high enough.
“There were 50 in adult basic education who obtained GEDs this year since July 1,” Smart said. “That’s the largest number since I’ve been here and this is my fifth year.”
“We handed out GED certificates last week,” Davis said, “and a majority of them will be in college in the fall.”
“We are trying to make Mississippi more job-ready,” Davis said.