Young people energized by Mississippi industry

Published 10:17 am Friday, January 13, 2017

By Kendra Ablaza

Mississippi Today

There are plenty of well-paying jobs in Mississippi that young workers have yet to discover — at least that’s what the  Mississippi Energy Institute says.

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The Jackson-based nonprofit policy group is leading a digital campaign focused on getting the word out about energy and advanced manufacturing jobs and the benefits of those careers.

The initiative, named Get on the Grid, targets people between the age of 13-24, who are still figuring out their career options, said Garrett McInnis, the institute’s vice president of development.

“We’re trying to find people that don’t know they’re interested in us, but we know they should be,” McInnis said.

The utility industry has been soul-searching for a number of years about how to address its aging workforce.

The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) examined federal labor statistics in 2006, which foreshadowed that demand for energy-sector workers would eventually outstrip supply. By 2015, data from the center showed improvement but suggested more work needed to be done.

According to a 2015 survey: “The number of older workers has declined as workers in key jobs are retiring, with retirement forecasts in future years trending downward for the first time since CEWD began surveying. Efforts to build a sustainable talent pipeline are paying off, but show more promise in some jobs than in others. The results clearly reflect a need to put more emphasis on skilled technician and engineering positions.”

That’s where groups such as the Mississippi Energy Institute believe they can help.

Currently, the state’s energy and manufacturing sectors employ more than 150,000 people in Mississippi, and three-fourths of those available jobs don’t require a college education. Some of these in-demand jobs can even lead to six-figure salaries, McInnis said.

Get on the Grid’s website offers descriptions of 11 careers, such as utility lineman, welder or industrial maintenance technician, and lists where training programs are located as well as current job listings via the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s Mississippi Works program, a Gov. Phil Bryant initiative focused on job development.

McInnis said the website used to have an oil field career path, but it has since been scrapped because jobs in that field are not in demand right now.

Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi and a member of the institute’s board of directors, said that Get on the Grid is doing an excellent job promoting these technical careers and showing young people what bright future they can have in the energy sector.

“The importance of skilled labor has increased over the years, yet we’re seeing fewer and fewer skilled workers,” Fisackerly said. “That means demand is high and the pay is above average for careers in the energy field, even for those without a four-year degree.”

“It’s imperative that we educate our young people — our future workforce — about these educational and occupational opportunities because we need a strong and competitive workforce to meet the challenges of powering the future,” Fisackerly said.

Although the campaign launched in March 2015, the initiative ramped up its efforts in October when it received a $200,000 federal grant administered through the state’s Department of Employment Security to push its digital presence.

The institute uses mobile banner advertisements on related websites and social media sites like Facebook to get the word out about these jobs.

For now, the campaign is limited to the Jackson, Biloxi and Gulfport metropolitan areas. McInnis said the institute will also start visiting classrooms in those areas next month to gauge students’ interest in these fields in person.

The campaign will conclude in April 2017, then the institute and its project partners will review the results and see what financial options are available if they feel the program should continue.

The institute also has buy-in from local community colleges and industry professionals. If the initiative is successful, McInnis said this campaign could potentially be a model for other industries to attract interested young people to not-so-well-known fields using public-private partnerships.

Interest in the campaign is gaining momentum. Since October, when the digital campaign launched, the institute has seen almost 40,000 visits to the site, up from fewer than 12,000 in the period between March 2015 and Oct 2016.

“We’re getting more than 400 visits a day,” McInnis said. “Sometimes 450 a day.”