Cuts to workforce training could cause problems

By By Steve Gillespie/staff writer
March 4, 2002
Two members of the Mississippi Workforce Development Council say possible cuts to the state's workforce training programs could create long-term problems.
George Meyers, representing Meridian Community College, and Joe Jones, representing Hinds Community College, recently shared their views with The Meridian Star editorial board.
Joe Jones: When the Legislature created the Workforce Training Council, of which George and I are members, they gave the primary responsibility for workforce training to the community colleges. Unfortunately, in my opinion anyway, they provided us with a contingent funding source.
Most of the direct money for workforce training comes from a fund established by House Bill 400 (in 1992), where about half of the money goes to the Department of Education and the other half is divided between Institutions of Higher Learning and the community colleges. Now, there's no surplus going into the fund.
Last year, the Legislature found us an extra $10 million or so right at the end of the session and we're hopeful they will do that again this year. But what's happened is that by the formula of HB 400, we have very little, if any, funding. In fact, the Legislature is proposing a 70 percent cut in direct workforce training funds. We had about $12.5 million last year and they are proposing $3.7 million this year from the Legislative Budget Office.
Last year, we trained more than 150,000 Mississippians anywhere from a couple of hours of training, to a couple of weeks, to months. If we get a 70 percent budget cut, then there will be 100,000 fewer Mississippians trained next year.
The Meridian Star: What will be the impact on Mississippi with that kind of a reduction in workforce training?
Jones: There are two aspects to not having a trained work force.
For new industry looking to come into the state there are several key factors that they would look at: availability of facilities, incentives from local and state government, a business friendly environment and a trained or trainable work force. If you don't have a trained or trainable work force they will not come.
The second aspect … has to do with existing industry in the state. We've lost between 20,000 and 25,000 manufacturing jobs in Mississippi over the past two years. To some extent, it would seem that that loss has been mitigated by an increase in service jobs, but it takes manufacturing jobs to make the pie bigger. Service jobs are fine, but essentially you don't increase the size of the pie you just swap dollars with people back and forth.
Replacing a manufacturing job with a service job doesn't get you to the same place. Mississippi is in no position to turn its back on manufacturing. And in order to prevent the continued slide of jobs out of the state, we've got to improve the training of our work force. They either have to be now trained or trainable to handle the new high-tech, higher-paying jobs because we simply cannot compete with lower cost environments such as Mexico and China.
The Star: Would a cut in workforce training affect existing industry in any other ways?
Jones: Mississippi made commitments to a lot of industries that if they would come to the state, the state would provide workforce training on a regular, continuing basis. If we don't honor those commitments, it is going to be very difficult to attract new industry.
Nissan took one look at the contingent funding for workforce training the state provides and said, "No thanks." So, they now have workforce training as part of their contractual obligation with the state. Nissan is going to be trained.
I'm very much in favor of Nissan and nothing I'm saying should imply otherwise. But the situation we could have is that the new kid on the block gets plenty of training, and the existing industries that have been employing people and paying taxes and being good citizens for years and years don't get any training.
This is a state subsidized program. It's not fully state funded. In fact, employers pay a tremendous amount. But with a 70 percent cut, I think the choice would be either employees would pay more or they would have to locate somewhere else.
George Meyers: There are many businesses who have multiple firms located in different states and essentially they are saying "If we cannot receive the training (in) Mississippi we will have to move to another location, consolidate and put their operations in another state that does provide training."
The Star: What would cuts in workforce training mean to the immediate area?
Meyers: In Meridian and Lauderdale County, we could see some of the same. If Nissan grows and supporting suppliers come in, very few of those businesses will come with their own work force. They will need employees who will need to be trained and the question is whether or not there will be funding for that type of training.
Recruitment is always an issue. We're setting up an industrial park and we're hopeful manufacturing jobs will be a great part of that. We have a lot of fine elements to attract businesses to us, but one of the things they want to put on the table is whether or not there is training available and are there monies for that training.
We certainly have the facilities in Meridian Community College and other community colleges around us. But their budgets are being sliced, too.
The Star: What would be the solution for funding of workforce training within the community colleges?
Jones: Making workforce training a line item on the state budget as opposed to a contingent item of some kind and a renegotiation of rules to allow more federal dollars to be available for workforce training. We need better access to federal money for training.