OPINION: WET Fund and EMCC do great things for employment

Thumbs up, Legislature, for prompt action to avoid a catastrophe in workforce training.
On day one, the House and Senate adopted a bill authored by Sen. Dean Kirby to preserve the $20 million Workforce Enhancement Training (WET) Fund. Fast approval of complex legislation is highly unusual.
But failure to act would have disrupted workforce training throughout the state.
You see, the WET Fund provides money to community and junior colleges to train workers.
It represents Mississippi’s abiding commitment to provide a highly skilled workforce for business and industry. It undergirds job creation and retention, both desperately needed at this time.
Surplus unemployment taxes financed the WET Fund, a surplus eroded by the long lines drawing unemployment checks. Kirby’s bill removes the surplus requirement to keep funds flowing.
And also sustains the great momentum Mississippi’s community and junior colleges have built in providing innovative, demand-driven workforce training. We all know the Toyota story, let me tell you another.
In 2007, Sara Lee closed in West Point, terminating over 1,600 loyal employees, many with less than a high school education and minimal technical skills. Into the fray jumped East Mississippi Community College along with the state’s Rapid Response unit and local WIN Job Center. But business as usual, the college knew, would not suffice.
“The challenge was not to offer training, but to effectively train and get people into jobs in a realistic timeframe,” explained EMCC vice president Dr. Raj Shaunak.
So, EMCC crafted an intensive, modern manufacturing training program with four key elements: 1) preparation for Career Readiness Certificates (CRCs) augmented with Adult Education and Basic Skills training; 2) simultaneous training in basic components of the Modern Multi-skill Manufacturing (M3) Credential; 3) enrollment in the Amatrol Anytime Anywhere e-Learning System; and 4) using “navigators” to move participants from entry, through training and education, and into jobs.
EMCC provided leadership to help bring CRC assessments to Mississippi, in developing the M3 Credential, and in designing the Amatrol-based e-learning system. It would now take the lead in implementing a new best practice – the role of “navigator,” a role designed through research at the National Institute for Rural Community Colleges at Mississippi State University.
Navigators, intensive scheduling, and innovative training systems improved EMCC’s completion rate from 60 percent to over 90 percent. Over 50 percent of Sara Lee workers re-trained got jobs within six months. Wow!
Today, Severstal, American Eurocopter, PACCAR, Aurora Flight Systems, and Stark Aerospace depend upon EMCC’s modern manufacturing program, calling it a “solid foundation.”
This EMCC story can be matched by other colleges. The WET Fund helps our community colleges do great things for people and companies who need it. Thanks Legislature!
Bill Crawford, a former legislator, lives in Meridian. Email: crawfolk@gmail.com.

Bill Crawford