Disaster mitigation through job training

MGCCC leads the way in building a resilient workforce in South Mississippi

Dealing with the fallout from both natural and man-made disasters is not something new for the administration, employees and students at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.  The college has dealt with those perils and how they not only disrupt lives, destroy property and devastate ecosystems, but also dismantle local economies.   Now, eight years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – an event that severely impacted everyone and everything along the Mississippi Gulf Coast – recovery efforts continue and a profound realization has surfaced that a vital component to surviving such a disaster is having strong communities with diversified economies.

“Strong communities are dependent on a well-qualified workforce and a solid economy,” said Dr. Mary S. Graham, president of MGCCC.  “At MGCCC, we are consistently looking for ways to provide the relevant workforce training needed to ensure our communities are able to respond in the event of natural or man-made disasters.”

One such initiative, MGCCC’s Gulf Coast Work Ready program (GCWR), is preparing a well-trained and skilled workforce in support of a diversified coastal economy to protect the region from future disasters.  The four-week GCWR program is designed to aid coastal citizens in the attainment of basic skills, employability skills and specific industry skills that are needed in high-demand industry sectors with a focus on diversification.  The project is funded via a Restore Act Grant from the U.S. Department of Treasury in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

The Gulf Coast Work Ready Credential, based on Mississippi’s “Smart Start” curriculum and local industry input, is awarded to participants that complete the basic and employability skills.  Following completion of the credential component, participants may enter the workforce or continue to the industry training component.

The industry training is sector based, with sectors designed in such a way as to create a diversified workforce for the coastal economies.  They include personal services, in support of the coasts vibrant hospitality and tourism industry; transportation, in support of the coastal port industries; oil and gas, in support of the expanding oil and gas exploration and production industries in the Gulf of Mexico; and maritime technology, in support of the coasts robust shipbuilding industry.

Man driving a 18-wheeler truck

Lawrence Evans has successfully completed the Gulf Coast Work Ready program in Commercial Truck Driving at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College

“MGCCC takes the role we play in our region’s workforce development seriously,” said Dr. Jason Pugh, college executive vice president over workforce training programs. “We partner with all sectors of business and industry to determine their needs, and we develop meaningful training, oftentimes resulting in the award of nationally recognized credentials that set our program participants apart from other potential employees.”

MGCCC has already started both Massage Therapy and Commercial Truck Driving programs.  Cosmetology and Nail Technology programs will follow this fall and, in the spring of 2019, the college will deploy the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) “Gateway” training and credentialing along with a maritime technology program.  In less than seven months of program instruction, 55 students have enrolled in the beginning four-week component with 43 successfully completing the course, earning a GCWR certificate and a minimum of silver on their National Career Readiness Certificate exam.  Of these credential completers, 38 have elected to enroll in industry-specific training programs.  Additional assistance to program students is provided by the state WIOA system (WIN Job Centers) in the form of economic assistance.

“Employers not only want to hire individuals that are extremely well trained in their specific field, but also those that possess the skills necessary for workplace success such as effective communication, work ethics and problem solving,” said Millie Hyatt, GCWR program director. “The RESTORE Act grant is providing a platform for MGCCC to pilot the Gulf Coast Work Ready credential training as well as education and training leading to employment in sectors vital to the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s economy.”

Woman administering a massage to another woman on a table

Christine Mims, a student in Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Gulf Coast Work Ready Massage Therapy program practices massage techniques on fellow student Leah Bigelow.

MGCCC’s industry partners are pleased with the results.  “The Gulf Coast Work Ready training and essential skills training is lacking in our industry,” said Nick Alexander, Massage Envy franchisee with The Sunray Companies. “Specifically, Massage Therapists need more than just massage therapy skills; they need to be able to speak to clients, promote themselves, and not be timid. Our corporation is very excited that the GCWR program is a requirement for all massage therapy students.”

Students are also thrilled with the results. “I was laid off from two of my previous jobs that were related to the offshore industry,” Andrew Powell, MGCCC RESTORE Act student, said. “I have tried to find work that will allow me to support my wife and son but without any training since I graduated high school, employment choices are limited.  The Gulf Coast Work Ready program is allowing me to receive short term training leading to a Commercial Truck Driving license, earning college credit and taking advantage of training which will help me be more employable.”

With the program’s success, MGCCC plans to move the program into sustainability status so that it is not a grant funded program that comes and goes.  “This is a significant move on our part,” said Pugh. “And it is a necessary move so that as the economies of the coast diversify, MGCCC continues to expand programs such as those under GCWR that ensure that South Mississippi can withstand and recover from any and all future disasters.”

“This project was paid for with grant funding from the Department of Treasury and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality under the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act). The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Treasury or the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.”

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