When it comes to building better futures, the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation wants high school students to know that professional trades are where the action is.

Through a statewide awareness campaign called Trade Up!, MCEF is demonstrating how career and technical programs are the preferred route to success for an increasing number of Mississippi students seeking stable jobs, competitive pay and benefits, opportunities for advancement and paths to entrepreneurship.

“Parents want their kids to excel in school and work toward careers they feel passionate about,” said Mike Barkett, MCEF president. “The great news is that today’s students have more rewarding career options than ever before, thanks to improved high school CTE programs that provide high-quality training and credentialing for a variety of professions.”

For audiences across Mississippi — parents, students and community stakeholders —Trade Up! will explain how CTE programs are building the workforce of the future. Professional trades are among the highest-paying and fastest-growing jobs in the country.

In modern CTE programs, students acquire much more than a trade — they also learn about project management, teamwork and collaboration, creative problem solving, safe work practices, and many other qualities that are crucial for success in the workplace.

They’re also more likely to graduate from high school. CTE students have a graduation rate of 93 percent, compared with 82 percent for non-CTE students, according to a study commissioned by Advance CTE.

In light of the country’s college debt crisis, it’s important for students and their families to consider returns on investment for career training.

Every year, more than 400,000 students in the top half of their high school classes go to college, yet eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree, according to findings of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

“Statistics prove that the college degree path isn’t the answer for many students, yet America’s education model continues pushing them in that direction,” Barkett noted. “Adding more and better CTE programs to the mix diversifies the career options available to students after they graduate and leads to more positive outcomes. CTE gives students a tangible goal to strive for, and in the vast majority of cases, it ends up being a sound investment in the long run.”

In the past, high school students interested in trades had an either-or graduation path that limited their growth potential. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case in many school districts that are integrating traditional academic courses with CTE. This blended approach not only enhances options for students who are interested in exploring different career paths but also illuminates the connections between academic coursework and real-world skills.

“Technology continues to play a dominant role in today’s top careers, from engineering to nursing to construction-related trades,” Barkett said. “CTE is a way for students to gain hands-on experience with the latest technologies in actual work environments. By the time they graduate from high school, they’ve learned a highly valuable skill that’s in great demand.”

CTE programs in Mississippi also follow standards set by the National Center for Construction Education and Research, meaning students’ training and credentials are recognized throughout the U.S.

Across the country and in Mississippi, the timing is perfect for students who have their sights set on becoming trade professionals. In addition to being a smart career path for the future, CTE programs help strengthen Mississippi’s economic development prospects.

“Companies looking to move to Mississippi will perform a skills assessment analysis on the workforce,” Barkett said. “We want to show these companies that Mississippians are trained, qualified and ready to go to work, and CTE programs play a key role in making Mississippi a stronger competitor in industrial recruitment.”

MCEF plans to take the Trade Up! message to communities across Mississippi. Schools, civic clubs, churches and other groups interested in hosting a Trade Up! conversation are encouraged to contact MCEF by calling 601-605-2989 or emailing

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.