PEARL ― As students prepare for a new school year, many are choosing career and technical education as their path to professional success.

Since 1996, that’s been the goal of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, which continues working with statewide coalitions in education, industry and government to build a ready workforce for Mississippi.

“MCEF is enjoying one of the most eventful years in our history as evidence by the increased enrollment in career and technical education programs,” said MCEF President Mike Barkett. “More and more Mississippians are realizing that CTE programs open doors to promising career paths in an industry that’s experiencing unprecedented growth.”

Boosting the number of CTE graduates is vital, he explained, because by 2019 Mississippi will need more than 80,000 craft professionals to meet the needs of the state’s growing construction and manufacturing industries. MCEF is helping Mississippi address this need by encouraging interest in technical-based careers and providing high-quality training programs to support the state’s workforce development goals.

Since the introduction of statewide competency standards last year, MCEF has been working closely with the Mississippi Department of Education to ensure that the state’s CTE centers achieve accreditation from the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Specifically, MCEF is conducting assessments to determine if programs are NCCER-compliant and developing improvement programs for those falling short of competency standards.

“We’re positioning the state’s CTE programs for success by raising standards to reflect the higher demands being placed on these programs nationwide,” Barkett said. “This will also help position our graduates for greater success by preparing them to successfully compete for jobs wherever they go.”

Along with raising standards, MCEF staff members are updating CTE training materials to ensure that students are exposed to the latest construction tools, technologies and training methods, including a broadened emphasis on safety.

One of MCEF’s focus areas is helping remove the stigma that is too often associated with career and technical education. MCEF sponsors events designed to introduce junior-high and high school students to construction careers, including the Passport to Careers Expo each spring in Jackson and the USM Building Futures Summer Camp in July.

In addition, MCEF hosts an annual counselors’ workshop during which K-12 counselors from across Mississippi participate in hands-on building activities. The goal is to increase student enrollment in high school CTE programs by expanding knowledge of CTE programs and successful high-paying careers.

“We’re showing students, parents and counselors that modern construction and manufacturing jobs are cutting-edge, technologically advanced and academically rigorous,” Barkett said. “By no means are these programs a last resort for students who can’t excel in traditional, four-year degree programs. To the contrary, they’re the first choice for students who are serious about their futures and want rewarding careers with opportunities for advancement.”

Barkett noted that many students who graduate from MCEF programs go on to complete four-year degrees in fields such as engineering and architecture. Others are interested in starting careers directly after high school, and thanks to the variety of training programs now offered in Mississippi, more than 20 percent of high school graduates successfully transitioned to careers last year.

“Over the last two decades, MCEF has helped transform career and technical education in Mississippi with the help of our statewide network of partners and stakeholders,” Barkett said. “The payoff is seeing more young people proudly choose career and technical education as their ticket to success. It’s one way Mississippi can reverse the ‘brain drain’ by offering rewarding, stable careers to our best and brightest.”

The mission of the non-profit MCEF is to promote careers, recruit capable individuals and train a quality workforce for the construction and manufacturing industries in the state of Mississippi. MCEF also offers workforce training and credentialing in construction, industrial maintenance and manufacturing trades.