OUR OPINION: Work partnership degree raises employment hopes

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s continuing struggle to raise educational attainment and match it with jobs available in the state marketplace requires constant innovation and responsiveness from the private sector and the jobs-training programs of the community college system.
Toyota, the highest-profile new manufacturer in the state, announced an agreement on Monday with four community colleges to offer an Advanced Manufacturing Technician associates degree. Itawamba, Northeast, Northwest and East Mississippi community colleges, which together comprise the Mississippi Corridor Consortium, will partner with Toyota, whose plant at Blue Springs employs 2,000 people and makes the top-selling Corolla automobile.
The problem was graphically illustrated on Monday, too, with the release of a study showing lower employment of Mississippians ages 20-to-24 – 51 percent statewide compared to 61 percent nationwide.
The study, drawn from the annual statistical Kids Count report of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, firmly linked the high incidence of poverty in Mississippi with the low employment figures for late adolescents and young adults – as have many previous studies.
Partnerships like the Toyota-Corridor Consortium agreement can help overcome some of the liabilities many young Mississippians bring to the workplace, advancing educational attainment while they begin to make a good living.
As reported in the Daily Journal, students in the auto technician associates program will take classes at their home college two days a week and have a paid internship at Toyota three days a week. The internship will initially pay $16.50 per hour and can increase up to $19.56 an hour.
“This is the new paradigm for career and technical education,” said James Williams, ICC’s vice president of economic and community services. “These students will be highly valued in the market.”
Toyota’s honesty about the employment situation adds urgency to the program.
“This is an investment in the future of manufacturing for Northeast Mississippi,” said David Copenhaver, vice president of administration at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi. “Manufacturing has become so much more complex, and we need people who can work on the equipment and troubleshoot and fix problems. We have tapped out our area between what we have recruited and our suppliers have hired, and we need to grow our own.”
The logical follow-through is expansion of the program to other industries.