Feb 21 2018
The Magnolia State is seeing the fruits of a growing economy. In December, the state’s unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, the lowest ever recorded in Mississippi, and job growth reached a historic high.
There is good reason to be optimistic. But this is not the time to rest on our laurels.
The United States currently faces a “skills gap,” which means employers in fields such as manufacturing and telecommunications cannot find workers with the qualifications to fill vacant positions. Those positions stay empty, and bright, talented jobseekers remain out of work. One report from 2017 found that 45 percent of small businesses were unable to find qualified applicants to fill job openings.
We want to break this cycle.
Tomorrow, we will convene a roundtable discussion at Jackson State University with a specific focus on closing the skills gap. We have brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including educators and local business leaders, to discuss ways that public and private sectors can be engaged in this process.
Above all, we believe in expanding job opportunities for all Americans to participate in the new economy. There is no reason why our country’s workforce cannot take on the jobs of tomorrow.
One way to do this is through apprenticeships and other workforce development programs.
Apprenticeships provide a unique opportunity for workers to “earn as they learn,” combining education with on-the-job training. Apprenticeships can lead to good-paying jobs while also meeting employers’ growing demands for specific skill sets or credentials. A Department of Labor study found that over 90 percent of apprentices find employment after completing their programs and earn an average starting salary of $60,000 per year. These are programs that work, helping to build lasting careers.
Our roundtable will build on the good work that has been done so far in Mississippi to prepare workers for 21st-century jobs. For example, the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP) has been focused on developing new registered apprenticeship programs. Last November, the program registered its first three participants: Hinds Community College, Empire Truck Sales, and Stribling Equipment.
These programs are not only training a skilled workforce but offering opportunities for young workers to stay in our state, where they can find work in their hometowns and near their families.
We can do our part in Washington to expand the reach of workforce development efforts. In June 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order directing federal agencies to develop policies that promote apprenticeships and workforce development programs. His executive action also seeks to make existing programs more efficient. Although the federal government has a role to play in facilitating these programs, it is not always as nimble as it could be.
The “Apprenticeship Enhancement Act,” introduced by Senator Wicker, would help streamline the application and approval process. By removing layers of government bureaucracy, the bill would make it easier for companies to register new apprenticeship programs or update existing programs.
The Federal Communications Commission is also taking steps to encourage job creation with the promotion of broadband deployment. There are jobs to be found in the manufacturing and deployment of broadband infrastructure as well as in the businesses that use these connections to reach customers around the world. Simply put, broadband can harness the talents of all Americans, create good-paying jobs, and help drive our nation’s economic growth. The FCC has wisely begun streamlining the processes governing wireless infrastructure deployment, which means that more Mississippians will have access to broadband and the economic opportunities it provides.
Our workers are the lifeblood of our economy, and we want them to succeed. That success begins by giving Americans a fair shot at developing the skills necessary to participate in this economic resurgence. Expanding apprenticeship programs and broadband deployment are key to doing just that.
Roger Wicker is a Republican representing Mississippi in the U.S. Senate. Brendan Carr is a Commissioner at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
This op-ed appeared in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger on February 18, 2018.