Q&A with Mike Barkett: Changes in the Construction Industry as a Result of MCEF

As the ACTE’s national convention approaches, we caught up with Mike Barkett, President of Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF) since we last spoke with him in March, 2014. He provides an update on new developments that have emerged from his ongoing effort to build a quality construction workforce in Mississippi.

What changes or trends have you seen as a result of the efforts of MCEF?
Mike: Overall awareness in the field of construction and manufacturing and the opportunities they present for young people today has increased dramatically. Particularly now that we are coming out of the recession and there are many more jobs available. Students and parents realize that construction and manufacturing can provide a rewarding and well-paying career and thus is a viable option. The fact that 21% of our high school graduates from last year entered directly into the workforce upon graduation is a testament to this.

What sort of initiatives is MCEF involved with to help create awareness and interest among students and stakeholders around careers in construction and manufacturing?
Mike: We do a lot to help inform parents, counselors, and students throughout the state about the opportunities in construction and manufacturing. A few examples include:

  1. MCEF hosts the state SkillsUSA competition in construction and manufacturing. This is an event that attracts over 300 students in eleven (11) disciplines and it helps to view the “Best of the Best” in high school/community college/apprenticeship training. It also helps MCEF to establish a strong image building showcase for the construction industry in Mississippi and serves as a catalyst in recruitment of stronger candidates for employment.
  2. As part of the SkillsUSA competition we also host a workshop targeted towards guidance counselors, directors, and superintendents. The whole goal of the workshop is to educate everyone about the construction opportunities and that Career & Technical Education is a viable career path for young people.
  3. Another event we conduct is a statewide career expo for 8th grade students called Passport 2 Careers (P2C). Last year we had 600 students attend and they were exposed to over 30 hands on career opportunities and in some cases were able to experience and/or see what was involved in each. This year we are hoping to have 1200 students participate.
Building skills

Now that your workforce readiness initiative is underway and has grown well, how will the work of the Foundation continue in the future?
Mike: It’s time for us to take our initiatives to the next level. We would like to add additional staff so we can do a better job in working with the community colleges throughout the state. Technology is really changing the way we teach and the way young people learn so we would like to invest in this area so we can expand our reach and make training more available to all that are interested. There are also many new programs that we could start to help serve some of the high demand areas. For example, the need for welders has grown significantly as a result of work throughout the region. In addition, the concrete, asphalt and road building associations in the area have contacted us about specific training needs that they have.

So, the opportunities to expand and continue to help close the skills gap and deliver a qualified workforce for the state of Mississippi is significant. Of course, all of this costs money. We’ve been very fortunate to have the support of the industry in obtaining annual grants from license fees collected by the Mississippi State Board of Contractors (our primary source of funding). The fees have not been increased over the past 20 plus years. With the industry’s full support and the support of the Board of Contractors, we are developing a plan to increase these fees which will allow MCEF to grow and expand in new and exciting areas. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with all the contractors agreeing to the increase in fees, and fully supported by the industry. This recommendation is being prepared for consideration by the next session of the Mississippi Legislature.

View the full case study about MCEF’s inception and growth or listen to the full March 2014 interview about MCEF and Yates Construction.

Mike Barkett will be speaking at the upcoming ACTE’s CareerTech VISION 2014. The full event will be held Wednesday, November 19, 2014 through Saturday, November 22, 2014 at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. Or join in the conversation on Twitter with @PearsonNorthAm, #VISION14, and #bestcareers.