PEARL ― Hattiesburg business leader Jim Stewart’s efforts to encourage more young people to pursue craft careers led to his selection as a 2019 recipient of the President’s Hard Hat Award from the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation. Stewart received the honor during MCEF’s recent annual awards celebration in Pearl.

Stewart, a sales manager for American Concrete Products in Hattiesburg, became involved with MCEF more than two decades ago through his membership in the Mississippi-Louisiana Brick Manufacturing Association. Stewart has played a key role in the Skills USA competition as a masonry judge and has been a helpful resource for masonry training programs in Mississippi’s career and technical education centers.

“Jim has served 22 consecutive years on the MCEF board and 18 years as secretary,” said Mike Barkett, MCEF president. “He’s a loyal supporter of all of our programs and can be counted on to participate in events and help improve our outreach. Through his industry involvement, Jim has supplied brick and other materials for our training programs and competitions.”

Stewart credits MCEF for raising awareness in Mississippi about the many stable, high-paying career opportunities available in professional trades. He also believes MCEF’s work has helped reframe trade professions as a preferred career track for today’s students — an important shift in perception as the construction industry works to address a national shortage of skilled labor.

“Originally, MCEF was tasked with removing the stigma about construction trades that kept so many students from choosing these career paths,” Stewart said. “Thanks to MCEF’s outreach, we’re working more with communities, counselors, parents and the students themselves to prove that learning a trade can open the doors to a great future.”

Stewart has more than 40 years of experience in the masonry industry at state and national levels, including expertise in commercial and residential sales and consulting. He began working in the construction business in his teens and continued while attending college

“My father once told me that a person who learns a trade will never go hungry. They’ll always be able to find a job,” he said. “That’s even more true today, and I’m thankful that my involvement with MCEF is helping promote a positive message about craft careers. A lot of people work very hard to make MCEF a success, and Mike Barkett has a tireless staff.”

MCEF is a non-profit educational foundation that provides NCCER craft training and credentialing in more than 100 career and technical programs across the state. The foundation’s mission is to train individuals for the construction and manufacturing industries in Mississippi.

MCEF also offers workforce training and credentialing in construction, industrial maintenance and manufacturing trades. Learn more about MCEF Training and Education.