Jim Hood believes the nature of our nation’s employment is changing as automation moves workers into more technical fields. To compete on the national and global stages, Mississippi must act fast. As governor, Jim Hood has four key workforce training priorities to move Mississippi forward and meet businesses’ needs:
- Statewide Tuition Assistance Program for community college students
- Expand apprenticeship programs
- WorkKeys certification for graduating high-school seniors
- A statewide program to teach high schoolers essential job skills
In total, these programs would cost $18 million per year.
Implementing statewide tuition-free community college. Mississippi’s community college system is among the best in the nation. Our community and junior colleges allow students to acquire skills necessary before entering the workforce, and, for others, offset the costs of four-year university tuition. We should be doing all we can to enable students to attend these institutions. Unfortunately, legislative budget cuts led by Tate Reeves have led to average per semester tuition at Mississippi community colleges rising by more than 40 percent over the past seven years. As governor, Jim Hood will support implementing a statewide tuition-free community college system for eligible high school students.
Under Jim Hood’s plan, high school graduates would apply for the program through their community college’s financial aid office. The program would function as a “last dollar scholarship.” Meaning, all other state and federal grants and scholarships, such as Pell Grant or the Mississippi Tuition Assistance Grant, would apply toward the student’s tuition before Hood’s program fills the remaining tuition gap. In the case that a student does not qualify for any other scholarship, grants, or financial assistance, Hood’s plan would cover the full tuition cost. Students must be enrolled in 15 hours of classes for four consecutive semesters and maintain a 2.5 GPA to remain eligible.
Eight counties in Northeast Mississippi have banded together to offer this exact program. Between 2008 and 2018, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) in Northeast Mississippi cost those counties only $4.2 million. Tennessee based their original tuition free community college system off TAP and offers a similar program statewide. Hood estimates the program to cost about $6 million to $6.5 million per year. Hood will call for $8 million per year in funding for the program with excess funds deposited into revolving fund to ensure funding is available during years of sluggish revenue collections.
Expanding apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs provide workers with work-based learning opportunities and jump start their careers within a company or industry. For employers, apprenticeship programs help develop highly skilled workers, reduce turnover rates, and reduce recruitment costs. As governor, Jim Hood will increase investment in apprenticeship programs at our community colleges and technical schools to create a pipeline of qualified workers that meets current and future industry needs. Jim proposes using $5 million per year to provide 500 new apprenticeship slots across Mississippi every year.
Helping students earn industry recognized certification. Increasingly, employers are looking for employees with industry-recognized certifications. Mississippi should be helping workers earn these certifications to compete in today’s job market. Jim Hood proposes using $2 million to provide ACT WorkKeys assessments to high school seniors in Mississippi public schools. Students who successfully complete WorkKeys earn an industry recognized National Career Readiness Certificate, and help their resume stand out on an employer’s desk. Additionally, by helping students earn WorkKeys certifications, Mississippi can help counties earn Work Ready Community status showing businesses Mississippians are ready to work.
Teaching high-school students essential job skills. Mississippi should be doing more to prepare high school students for work before they enter the workforce. Currently, the Mississippi Partnership workforce region in Northeast Mississippi operates a Gateway Program that teaches high schoolers essential job skills, offers career guidance, assesses WorkKeys skills, and connects them with paid work experiences. As governor, Jim Hood will support expanding a Gateway Program statewide to all four workforce development areas. Participants will learn essential job skills such as:
- Attitude and body language
- Attendance and punctuality
- Communication and following instructions
- Financial knowledge and management
- Problem solving and critical thinking
- Social media use and use of electronic devices
After completion of the essential jobs skills training, program participants will receive a completion certificate and be eligible to receive a paid work/internship experience with a local employer in a high growth industry. The work/internship experience will be offered in the summer months when public schools are closed, allowing students to earn real work experience.
Jim Hood proposes disbursing these funds through annual $750,000 grants to each of the four local workforce development areas (LWDA) in Mississippi. The LWDAs will have the option of administering the program themselves or partnering with local organizations. The grant money will allow creation of 500 program slots per LWDA each year. In total, the program will use only $3 million of state funding.
Jim Hood is putting Mississippi families first!