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Economic Development Foundation, The Tech partner up for a stronger workforce

Local businesses and community leaders gathered together at the Oxford-Lafayette School of Applied Technology on Tuesday morning with jobs on their minds.

The event, organized by The Tech and the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, served to address problems that have been presented to the EDF and solutions that are possible through community conversations and with partnerships with the instructors and programs available at the school.

“This is not a localized problem, this is not something that started in Oxford or started in Mississippi. I go and work with economic developers literally from around the world and they all have the same issues,” EDF Director Jon Maynard said.

Problems facing Oxford and Lafayette County’s workforce, Maynard said,  include a lack of soft skills for employees. Those skills include absenteeism, tardiness and problem solving skills.

While Maynard and the Economic Development Foundation have a broader goal in mind with regards to the area’s workforce growth, Tuesday’s meeting focused largely on the programs that The Tech currently has and what their students can offer to local businesses.

“This is what we have been wanting, to help you – all of you. That’s what we want to do as The Tech, from students to staff,” Tech director Joey Carpenter said to the employers attending the meeting. “We want to mesh with you and what you are looking for in the workforce.”

The Tech offers programs in automotive technology, construction and carpentry, health science, metal fabrications, Teacher Academy and programming fundamentals – a computer science program that began in 2016.

Programming Fundamentals instructor Bethany Lucas also spoke to the group attending the meeting, expressing the importance of having individuals provide experiences outside the classroom for all the students at The Tech, regardless of the area of business.

“Tours, internships anything like that so kids can see what it looks like in the workplace,” Lucas said. “Anything to give the kids an idea of what is out there for them.”

Carpenter also expressed a need for job shadowing, internships and workplace tours, with the ultimate goal of providing students at The Tech part-time jobs or even full-time positions once they have completed their high school education and want to enter the workforce.

However, Lucas said that Career and Technical Education (CTE) isn’t just for students who choose to forgo college.

“There is such a misconception about CTE, that it is where the kids go that don’t go to college. That’s not true. We have kids that go to (community) college, we have kids that go to university, we have kids that go right out to the workplace, but it is such a different type of educational experience here,” Lucas said.

Maynard said that he hopes the conversation sparked by Tuesday’s event, and others to be held in the near future, businesses in Oxford and Lafayette County will be able to solve some of the problems that exist across the spectrum of industries.

“(The businesses) are having issues with being able to attract and attain and develop their own workforce,” Maynard said. “When you find that problem across all employers, there’s a problem somewhere. … The goal of this is to find out what our problem is here in Lafayette County and figure out a solution to that. There will not be a single solution, there will be a lot of people at the table needed to make this thing work. It does take an entire community to fix the broad problem that we’ve got.”

Future plans include EDF reaching out to education facilities, church networks, law enforcement and the judicial communities to begin additional conversations on how to generate a larger and more productive workforce, Maynard said.

“We are not competing for businesses anymore, we are competing for people, for talent,” Maynard said. “We are competing to recruit people to come here or to come back here.”

Businesses and individuals interested in joining the conversation can contact the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation at 662-234-4651, for anyone interested in partnering with The Tech to provide educational opportunities, to be a guest speaker or to provide tours of a workplace, contact Carpenter at 662-234-9469.