By Alyssa Schnugg
Lafayette County employers say they are having trouble finding trained workers with strong work ethics, while members of the workforce say there aren’t enough “good” jobs available in Mississippi. As a result, many leave the state.
“This is not just a local problem,” said Jon Maynard, president and CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Foundation. “It’s a problem for Mississippi but so far no one has come up with a localized solution.”
However, Maynard said that’s what he hopes to do with the recent formation of a Workforce Development Group, a group of about 15 local business people who are meeting to find ways to reconnect Lafayette County’s workforce with its major employers.
On Tuesday, that group, along with local government and school officials, met at The Tech, formerly known as the Oxford-Lafayette School of Applied Technology, to tour the school and talk about the workforce issues facing the county and learn more about the school that could prove to be one of the answers in bridging the gap.
“What we decided to do is take a small group of employers and take their issues, write everything down and make a list and start to pick up other resources in the community that can help address some of those concerns,” Maynard said.
Some of the issues Maynard has heard from employers include workers lacking “soft skills,” – not being on time and being reliable, not taking advantage of educational benefits to increase skills.
“College level folks are leaving the state and taking their experience somewhere else,” Maynard said. “There seems to be a lack of understanding of what’s available here in Oxford.”
Training workers in our backyard
The Tech offers students in grades 9-12 a chance to learn a trade while going to high school. The school, located off Highway 7 south of Office Park Drive, offers automotive service technology, construction and carpentry, health sciences, metal fabrications, programming fundamentals and a teacher academy.
Students attend Oxford and Lafayette high schools in the morning and The Tech in the afternoon.
The Tech Director Joey Carpenter said the school wants to work more with local business owners and industries to know what they are looking for in employees.
“We want to mesh with you all,” he said Tuesday. “We want to be in step with you and know what you want us to teach. We want to build more partnerships so we know what you want and we know what you’re looking for, and then seeing how we can adjust. I just want kids to have the opportunity to have a job. That’s it.”
Lafayette County Supervisor Kevin Frye said the county needs to focus on growing the area’s economy long term, rather than short term, and that means investing in the area’s workforce.
“Anything the county can do to increase collaboration among existing educational institutions, like The Tech, and our businesses is something we ought to focus on,” he said before touring the vocational school. “There isn’t one overall solution. We’re going to have to look at things more holistically and find the areas we can improve.”