It’s been said that business is the engine of any free-market economy. I’ll add that people are the fuel that keeps the engine running. When you go to a bank, order a meal, drive on the highway, or buy a car, it takes people doing their jobs well to make those little trips run smoothly.
College can be a time of silent fright in the age range of your traditional student, that being 18 to about 25. A good many of them muddled through high school, surviving Renaissance Literature and Algebra II along the way, and feel “done” with school. Yet, on some level, they know a high school diploma will only take them so far.
Slowly but steadily, the career and technical programs at Hinds Community College are taking those who might have given up on their education that extra mile to a good job. I’ve had the pleasure this semester of interviewing a few students being trained in the latest technology in fields society needs to keep the economy's engine running.
One of those was Christolein Simmons, above, who started out in criminal justice when first enrolled at Hinds but found it just wasn’t for him. He already worked a factory job north of Jackson he enjoyed, and it made sense for his advisers in the college’s MI-BEST adult education program to recommend him for the Industrial Maintenance course of study. The program’s focus these days is the emergent field of mechatronics, which prepares students for the factory jobs of the present and future by combining mechanical and electronic disciplines.
“I just love working with my hands,” Simmons said. “And every day, it brings something new. We’re learning to troubleshoot and just doing the framework before we get hands-on. I think I can go on to a four-year college, enhance myself, then go on to work somewhere and continue to go to school.”
A classmate of his in the program, Reid Scoggins, above, probably could have just gone to work for life in his family’s industrial equipment business. Instead, he’s honing his skills and broadening those horizons he’s heard so much about.
“When I got into the program, they showed us all the machines they’d work on and the things we’d learn to do,” Scoggins said. “It piqued my interest.”
A third, Jacob Davis, of Jackson, pictured above, is on track for a career certificate and much more, thanks to the synergy between adult education and career-tech at Hinds. He told me and others gathered for a recent TV commercial shoot for the program he’d have the skills employers are looking for once he graduates.
No doubt, all three have peers who face years of working for minimum wage at best if they don’t continue their education. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, if you spy the potential wage earnings of the career-tech programs at Hinds. Factory workers can make up to $30 an hour with proper certifications. It’s in the higher 20s, too, for plumbers, electricians and welders, given enough of the kinds of training Hinds is providing. Quick aside -- my interviews came as Hinds was announced as a key piece of a consortium of Mississippi community colleges which is to assist Continental Tire in workforce training for its multimillion dollar plant to be built in Hinds County over the next few years. As Hinds President Dr. Muse put it, they wouldn’t be here if we weren’t able to provide such training.
This country needs far too many skilled workers in everything from factories to welding to highly technical information systems management to let apathy become reality for today’s students. And the next pool of untapped skills in doesn’t show up in Who’s Who. Too often, they show up only in the ranks of what’s now called the “underemployed.”
With enough encouragement, these students will show up on the job with earnings potential rivaling that of any scholarly pursuit of their high school peers.