HERNANDO ― Paul Whitfield Jr., president of Whitfield Electric Co., knows first-hand that Mississippi’s construction industry is taking off.

After 50 years of successful operations, he realized his company needed a new workforce development strategy to keep pace with business growth. With help from the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, Whitfield launched an onsite training program to prepare electricians for rewarding careers — and to build a pipeline of qualified professionals to support future growth.

MCEF partnered with Northwest Mississippi Community College to present the training curriculum at Whitfield Electric for apprentice electricians. Now in its third year, the accredited program also is open to other electrical contractors who are interested in providing formal training for employees.

“Whitfield Electric’s training program is a great example of partnerships that MCEF is building across the state to support Mississippi’s growing construction industry,” said Mike Barkett, MCEF president. “By leveraging the resources available at Northwest Mississippi Community College, we were able to offer an affordable solution for Whitfield Electric that addresses current and future workforce needs and helps create jobs for Mississippians.”

Founded in 1967 by Whitfield’s father, Paul Whitfield Sr., Whitfield Electric Co. employs nearly 100 workers, including Whitfield’s son, Austin Whitfield, who is currently enrolled in the apprentice electrician program.

Company leaders began pursuing onsite training options several years ago when labor shortages threatened business growth.

“For the last 15 to 20 years, we’ve seen fewer young people choosing to go into trade professions, and many experienced craftsmen are starting to retire,” said Whitfield. “I know from experience that this is a lucrative career for people who want to invest the time and effort to master their craft. With help from MCEF, we are attracting high-quality job candidates and developing a ‘true craftsman’ attitude.”

To support his workforce training needs, Whitfield built a classroom at Whitfield Electric to accommodate up to 30 students. Employees attend classes four nights a week led by industry instructors, who have access to the company’s 40,000-square-foot shop to perform hands-on training. Whitfield Electric covers all training costs for its employees.

Whitfield noted that training needs are quite different from what they were when he began working for his father in 1980.

“It’s like going from the Dark Ages to the Jetsons,” he said. “Now there’s so much automation, computers, energy management — what we’re doing now doesn’t resemble the industry when I started. MCEF has been very helpful in adapting curriculum to reflect the latest technologies and ensuring that training programs evolve with the industry’s needs.”

According to Whitfield, combining formal classroom instruction with on-the-job training will help bring employees up to speed much faster, which in turn will boost their earnings potential and promotional opportunities.

“I’ve noticed some of the trainees are walking a little taller,” Whitfield said. “Increasing knowledge helps build self-esteem. They feel better about their career paths and their future. They know they can be foremen one day or get promoted to an office position if that’s their goal.

“The training program definitely adds value,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without MCEF and its support team. They found a way for us to present the training program and have assisted us with anything we need.”

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.