Mississippi’s year-old workforce office, Accelerate Mississippi, has given an $1.4 million grant to a pair of community colleges grow their utility lineworker program.
The grant will fund Meridian Community College and East Central Community College’s efforts to double the number of lineworkers they train and help fill jobs needed by Mississippi Power and the East Mississippi Electric Power Association. The colleges, which are about 30 miles apart, serve six rural counties: Lauderdale, Leake, Neshoba, Newton, Scott and Winston.
“This is a quality program to train, equip and deploy utility lineworkers throughout their region,” said Accelerate Mississippi executive director Ryan Miller. “They provide an incredible service. In our minds, they’re first responders.”
Accelerate Mississippi oversees tens of millions of dollars, including a $25 million pot collected via an unemployment insurance tax on businesses called workforce enhancement training – or “WET” – funds.
Last year, the office awarded nearly $1 million to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to fund a diesel technician program, another field with high demands for workers.
Mississippi Power and the East Mississippi Electric Power Association had expressed a demand to the colleges already for skilled workers, especially for underground linemen, to install broadband cables as the state works to extend internet access to rural areas.
The colleges wrote in their application to the workforce office that a number of jobs had been lost in “one of the nation’s most economically distressed regions” because of layoffs and business closures. They identified advanced manufacturing, health care, and energy work as having the most potential employment opportunities for their part of the state.
But there is a gap between the region’s demand for certain jobs and the skills of their population.
“This was two community college colleges combining forces to apply for WET funds,” said Miller. “It’s exactly what we hope to see: let’s coordinate on resources to meet and address a need that is out there.”
The colleges expect to train up to 48 new utility workers over each 16-week session. Trainees can find jobs with wages between $21.75 and $31.56 an hour, according to data from the state employment security office.
Students will leave the program with the skills needed to perform electrical work both high on poles and underground.
The bulk of the funding is going to pay for the equipment – from a bucket truck to a mini excavator – needed to train more students.