The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has received a $5.8 million federal grant to build a new workforce training center to help the tribe up-skill members and combat labor shortages for jobs ranging from IT to health care.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration funded the grant through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Indigenous Communities program. Choctaw economic development director John Hendrix said the new 50,000-square-foot Advanced Workforce Training Center will open in the Pearl River community in about a year, complete with hands-on equipment and computer labs covering skills from electrical work to phlebotomy.
“It’s a game changer for the next generation,” Hendrix said.
The tribe currently has a small center with a few classrooms, but Hendrix said the space doesn’t meet the growing demand for new trade skills. The reservation alone supports about 5,000 workers.
“We’ve got several vacancies,” Hendrix said. “We need health care workers and IT professionals. We have 3-million-square-feet of buildings and need vocational technicians.”
The facility will offer new skill training and partner with a nearby community college for required certifications. It will also help current reservation employees learn new skills, like management.
The center will also have a makerspace for advanced manufacturing skills and access to technology such as 3D printers. It will also support entrepreneurs and small businesses as an incubator for start-ups.
“We have undertaken many projects to help our community members prepare to face a challenging and ever-evolving job market,” Chief Cyrus Ben said in a statement. “This Workforce Training Center is a key component of our strategy to increase the skills of our Tribal members, whether they choose a career on or outside of our Tribal lands.”
The Choctaw are the only federally recognized tribe in Mississippi with more than 11,000 members across 34,000 acres in 10 counties.
Hendrix said more on-site training for in-demand jobs will give tribal members who aren’t interested in four-year colleges other options. The center will keep tabs on skills needed for jobs on the reservation as well as what is in-demand at nearby private companies.
“This brings it closer to home,” he said, “and then after a 12-to-16-month program, they can have immediate employment opportunities.”