tuesday 1

Workforce investment

State holds obligation

to upgrade skills

Advocates for community-college-based workforce training and retraining respond with justified alarm to a proposed 70 percent budget cut in state funds for fiscal year 2003, which starts July 1.

Such draconian downsizing obviously would have the practical effect of shutting down the widely supported program. If all programs were to go full ahead under the proposed $3.7 million budget (compared to $12.5 million this year), workforce training would end by Sept. 30, 2002.

Some of Mississippi’s leading employers like Lane Home Furnishings depend on workforce training in cooperation with community colleges like ICC. Lane Executive Vice President Roger Bland, current chairman of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, told the Daily Journal’s editorial board last week that the ultimate stake is keeping good, long-term jobs in Mississippi from moving to other nations.

Workforce training for most industries isn’t guaranteed in the long term like the job training that will come with Nissan’s $1 billion assembly plant in Madison County. The Nissan-level investments are crucial, but so are other good jobs. The state-supported training for non-Nissan manufacturers needs a firmer foundation. It isn’t reasonable to expect manufacturing stability when training for employees stands in danger of elimination from year to year.

“We’re having to become much more specific (with training) to keep jobs from going to China,” Bland said. Lane employs 4,000 people in Northeast Mississippi.

The workforce law has the practical effect of maintaining and growing employment in any long-established industries. The training keeps skills current, upgrades knowledge, and adds an edge of efficiency that is the hallmark of successful American manufacturing.

Last year, in the fight for this year’s $12.5 million budget, House Appropriations Chairman Charlie Capps came through late in the session. The community colleges and their allies like the laymen-led Workforce Development Council and Mississippi Manufacturers Association believe a late-in-the-session development can provide $10 million to keep the program running for another year.

Good manufacturing jobs justify going the extra mile to find training funds. Our state has lost about 50,000 manufacturing jobs since 1994. The trend is the same nationwide, usually pegged to low-skill jobs most responsive to lower off-shore labor costs.

Mississippi has thousands of manufacturing jobs that can be saved and upgraded – if the state, acting through the Legislature, makes a financial commitment to keep them.