The Jackson Metro's colleges and universities are a key to its workforce success
With an unemployment rate lower than the state and national average and with a projected job growth of more than 40 percent over the next decade, the Jackson Metro relies heavily on its strong core of higher education institutions to keep the pipeline of talent flowing to the region’s businesses.
More than 35,000 students are enrolled in Jackson Metro colleges and universities. Jackson State University, a Carnegie Foundation-designated research-intensive university offering more than 90 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, anchors the region’s higher education community. Higher education institutions in the region include Belhaven College, Millsaps University, Mississippi College and the historically black Tougaloo College. Mississippi State University offers graduate level courses in electrical engineering and computer engineering through the Jackson Engineering Graduate Program, a consortium administered by the University of Mississippi.
The Jackson Metro is also home to a number of community colleges, which work closely with industry to connect students with jobs and develop customized programs that will meet employer needs. Hinds Community College, for example, offers certificates and associate degrees in more than 200 technical and career programs. Hinds, which is the state’s largest community college, also partners with other colleges and universities in the region to help students seamlessly transition to four-year degree programs.
“While we focus on training our students for the workforce, the mission of the college is also to provide opportunities for students to earn professional credentials, a certificate and/or an associate in applied science degree,” says Sherry Franklin, associate vice president for career and technical education at Hinds Community College. “At Hinds, we do not have a box; we create the box based on what is required for our students to be successful. Having access to academic programs allow our students to set multiple professional and personal goals while stacking credentials and thereby enhancing the region’s quality of life.”
Franklin says the college has significantly grown its business and industry partnerships over the last few years. The college’s aviation department, for example, conducts meetings with the Industry Support Group each semester, engages students in job monitoring tours at aviation facilities and assists students in making connections at the Jackson Airport for job opportunities.
“Productivity is increased with more collaboration and working through problems as a team instead of the focus being on self. Everyone is starting to work smarter thus becoming stronger together and handling their workload more efficiently and effectively,” says Tracy Gaddis, business and office technology instructor at Holmes Community College. “The same goes with growing relationships between businesses. School-business relationships will benefit the students by improving the quality of teaching and effective school management.”
Holmes Community College Workforce Development personnel also maintain close ties with area businesses to ensure that the curriculum matches local employment needs. The college hosts job fairs throughout the district to pair employers with students and maintains a virtual career center to inform students about employment opportunities.
Holmes Community College also has a full-time department dedicated to providing non-credit education and training for companies in the region. The college is able to quickly develop customized training programs for both current employees and recruits.
“Individuals employed with area businesses may take advantage of classes to enhance their skills, and businesses may request specific training to address needs within their businesses,” says Steve Diffey, director of communications for Holmes Community College.
Diffey says the fastest-growing programs include manufacturing, information technology, industrial maintenance and health care, which corresponds to growth areas within the Jackson Metro’s economy.
“One of the slogans the college has used in our Adult Basic Education program was learn more, earn more. In order for people to succeed in life, it is important that they take advantage of educational opportunities in order to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to become employable,” Diffey says.