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Unlocking North Mississippi’s Potential: the Urgent Need for Skilled Workers

By Duncan Gray

Hotty Toddy Contributor

Duncan Gray

In the heart of North Mississippi, a region rich in natural beauty and historical significance, a transformation is underway.

With its strategic location and diverse economic landscape, North Mississippi is poised to become an economic powerhouse. However, this potential can only be fully realized with an essential ingredient: skilled workers.

The demand for skilled workers in North Mississippi spans various sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, technology, and agriculture. Research done by AccelerateMS, the state’s new Office of Workforce Development, highlights the growing need for skilled laborers in these fields.

The shortage of skilled workers is not an issue unique to North Mississippi – companies across the nation are struggling to keep up. But it is an issue that must be addressed for North Mississippi to see continued economic growth.

One of the main reasons for this shortage is the mismatch between the skills possessed by the local workforce and the evolving needs of modern industries. We are in the midst of the latest industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, and this new revolution requires new sets of skills, new specialized training, new technology, and a new approach to educating and preparing our workforce. While there is no shortage of hardworking and dedicated individuals in North Mississippi, many lack the specialized skills for the jobs of the future.

The good news is obtaining these skills is easier than ever before, with training opportunities available across North Mississippi. The Skills Foundation recently launched its Skills That Pay campaign in North Mississippi with the goal of educating students, teachers, and parents on the many job opportunities in the skilled workforce. The Tennessee Valley Authority has programs connected to upskilling the workforce to fill the holes.

Community colleges in the region can collaborate with local industries to offer tailored training programs that align with industry demands, and AccelerateMS works closely with these institutions to identify areas with the highest workforce demand and allocate resources accordingly to expand or create training opportunities. Since this training often doesn’t require a four-year degree, individuals who take these paths can come away with less debt, more upward mobility, and a good quality of life.

As workforce issues become more complex, collaboration between the public and private sectors becomes more essential. Business and Industry must talk with K-12 institutions, community colleges and 4-year institutions must collaborate and cooperate, and agencies such as AccelerateMS and the Skills Foundation must continue to beat the drum and bring stakeholders together. Finally, economic development organizations must understand all these relationships within their communities and assist in aligning these systems. In short, silos must come down.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a concentrated effort by the state, local developers, business leaders, and training providers to work hand in glove to create solutions to the workforce challenges we face. If North Mississippi is to continue to be competitive economically, it’s critical we maintain and grow these public-private partnerships.

Addressing the skilled labor shortage in North Mississippi is not just about economic growth; it’s also about improving the quality of life for residents. Higher-skilled jobs offer competitive wages and benefits, leading to greater economic stability and improved living standards for individuals and families. A well-trained workforce doesn’t just attract new capital investment; it strengthens communities and hedges against potential economic downturns.

North Mississippi is enjoying a good run of economic success, but its full growth potential can only be realized with a robust skilled workforce. To unlock the region’s full potential, stakeholders must prioritize investments in education, vocational training, and public-private partnerships. By addressing the skills gap, North Mississippi can not only strengthen its existing industries but also attract new opportunities and improve the lives of its residents. The time to act is now, and with collective effort, North Mississippi can rise to meet the demands of the future.


Duncan Gray is the Director of Community and Workforce Development for the Oxford School District and Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation

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