Disaster mitigation through job training

Lawrence Evans has successfully completed the Gulf Coast Work Ready program in commercial truck driving at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. (Photos: MGCCC)

Dealing with the fallout from both natural and man-made disasters is not something new for the administration, employees and students at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC). The college has dealt with those perils and how they not only disrupt lives, destroy property and devastate ecosystems, but also dismantle local economies.

Now, eight years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill – an event that severely impacted everyone and everything along the Mississippi Gulf Coast – recovery efforts continue and a profound realization has surfaced that a vital component to surviving such a disaster is having strong communities with diversified economies.

“Strong communities are dependent on a well-qualified workforce and a solid economy,” said MGCCC President Mary S. Graham, who also serves as board chair of the American Association of Community Colleges. “We are consistently looking for ways to provide the relevant workforce training needed to ensure our communities are able to respond in the event of natural or man-made disasters.”

Teaching broad and specific skills

One such initiative, MGCCC’s Gulf Coast Work Ready program (GCWR), is preparing a well-trained and skilled workforce in support of a diversified coastal economy to protect the region from future disasters. The four-week program is designed to help coastal citizens attain the basic skills, employability skills and specific industry skills needed in high-demand industry sectors with a focus on diversification.

Upon completion and earning the GCWR credential — which is based on Mississippi’s “Smart Start” curriculum and local industry input — participants may enter the workforce or continue to the industry training component.

The project is funded through a Restore Act Grant from the U.S. Department of Treasury in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Including industry

The industry training is sector based, with sectors designed in such a way as to create a diversified workforce for the coastal economies. They include personal services, in support of the coasts vibrant hospitality and tourism industry; transportation, in support of the coastal port industries; oil and gas, in support of the expanding oil and gas exploration and production industries in the Gulf of Mexico; and maritime technology, in support of the coasts robust shipbuilding industry.

MGCCC has already started massage therapy and commercial truck driving programs. Cosmetology and nail technology programs will follow this fall and, in spring 2019, the college will deploy the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) “Gateway” training and credentialing along with a maritime technology program.

In less than seven months of program instruction, 55 students have enrolled in the beginning four-week component with 43 successfully completing the course, earning a GCWR certificate and a minimum of silver on their National Career Readiness Certificate exam. Of these credential completers, 38 have elected to enroll in industry-specific training programs. Additional assistance to program students is provided by the state WIOA system (WIN Job Centers) in the form of economic assistance.

MGCCC’s industry partners are pleased with the results.

Christine Mims, a student in Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Gulf Coast Work Ready massage therapy program, practices massage techniques on fellow student Leah Bigelow.

“Massage therapists need more than just massage therapy skills; they need to be able to speak to clients, promote themselves, and not be timid,” said Nick Alexander, Massage Envy franchisee with the Sunray Companies. “Our corporation is very excited that the GCWR program is a requirement for all massage therapy students.”

Students are also thrilled with the results.

“I was laid off from two of my previous jobs that were related to the offshore industry,” said student Andrew Powell. “I have tried to find work that will allow me to support my wife and son, but without any training since I graduated high school, employment choices are limited.”

The GCWR program allows him to receive short-term training that leads to a commercial truck driving license, earning college credit and taking advantage of training which will help him be more employable.

With the program’s success, MGCCC plans to move the program into “sustainability status,” so that it is not a grant-funded program that comes and goes.

About the Author

Jason Pugh
is executive vice president of teaching and learning at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.