PEARL ― Hundreds of Mississippi career and technical students along with aspiring apprentices are heading to Jackson for one of the state’s largest-ever craft competitions.

Slated for April 9-10 at the Mississippi Trade Mart & Equine Center, the annual MCEF SkillsUSA State Championship will feature more than 300 top-notch competitors in conjunction with the Passport to Careers (P2C) Expo and the CTE Counselors Workshop.

The event is part of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation’s Building Futures initiative aimed at ensuring the state’s need for more craft professionals is met by qualified Mississippians who have graduated from one of the state’s accredited career and technical education programs.

“This is one of the most important weeks of the year,” said MCEF president Mike Barkett. “The reach of this statewide competition will take us to new heights in equipping students to fill the 80,000 craft positions needed in Mississippi by 2020.”

The MCEF SkillsUSA Championship showcases Mississippi’s most outstanding career and technical education students from high schools and community colleges around the state along with rising apprentices from the construction industry.

Contestants will work against the clock and each other, proving their expertise in occupations such as carpentry, cabinet making, electrical-residential, electrical-commercial, HVAC, masonry, plumbing, sheet metal, welding fabrication, welding-structural, and teamwork.

Events are run with the help of industry partners and contractors, trade associations and labor organizations, and test competencies are set by industry.

“This statewide competition provides a glimpse at the soul and spirit of some of tomorrow’s best craft professionals today,” said Barkett. “Its format places participants in conditions similar to those they will face in their careers, and provides the knowledge and confidence they’ll need to be successful.”

The top three finishers in the secondary and post-secondary competitions will advance to Louisville, Ky., June 24-28 for the National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC), a showcase of more than 16,000 career and technical education students. Meanwhile, winners of the apprenticeship competition will represent Mississippi in next year’s National Craft Championship in Long Beach, California.

SkillsUSA is one of the largest career and technical student organizations in the United States and a proven talent pipeline for career-ready employees,” said Barkett. “We are proud to partner with them on opportunities that promote individual achievement while addressing the skilled trades job gap with the expertise and talent these careers require.”

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