By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Area industry leaders are making a point to utilize the Tupelo Public School District for securing their future workforce.
Ryan Miller, programs manager and assistant director for the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME), Tony Tice, dean of career and technical instruction at Itawamba Community College, and David Copenhaver, retired vice president of Toyota’s Blue Springs plant, spoke to Tupelo teachers Thursday about exposing students to career paths in manufacturing at the district’s annual Industry Education Day.
“When you ask a teenager, ‘What is manufacturing?’ they think of an old factory in a black and white history textbook, or of a dying industry, but those come from influences, not experiences,” Miller said. “But if we open them up to the creativity, potential and teamwork in the industry, we can show them the real opportunities manufacturing can offer them.”
While it doesn’t grant a degree itself, CME provides college undergraduates the chance to earn 18 to 21 hours in manufacturing and engineering environments around the state, from Toyota in Blue Springs to Viking Range Stoves in Greenwood. CME seeks to recruit students right out of high school through “discovery days” in which kids engage in problem-solving and team-building activities, and meet instructors, who hand-select those to be invited to apply for the program.
Tice said a big advantage to Northeast Mississippi’s manufacturing industry is that many students desire to keep living in the area. The wide array of career options are enticing, as is the pay. ICC, he said, has become more intentional in putting students in real-world work environments.
“I used to say a career in technology education isn’t for everybody, but now that the money is there, it really can be for anybody,” Tice said. “A student straight out of high school, with a minimum ACT math score of only 19, can come out of five semesters … with a sellable skill and a career that makes in the $40,000 range.”
“The current workforce is getting better but it needs to get bigger. The question now for the industry, is how big can it get,” he said.