Thursday, April 14, 2005

Job Summit scheduled for April 28

Staff Writer

Marshall County and Holly Springs are holding their first Education and Job Summit, April 28, to try to do something to improve workforce readiness in a county that historically runs an unemployment rate higher than the state average.

Local industry, education and business leaders and elected officials hope the summit will draw attention to the need for a better prepared workforce and the need for good paying jobs.

The summit will be held at the Holly Springs Multi-Purpose Building on North Memphis Street. Area leaders will hold panel discussions beginning at 9:30 a.m. and ending mid-afternoon. Graduating seniors from local schools will be brought to the event to hear speakers offer encouragement and sound suggestions on how to prepare for their future.

The summit is a key element of a plan to implement the Marshall County Strategic Plan to improve the quality of life for citizens.

Byhalia town alderman Bill Dawson, who is a member of the education committee and a member of the board of trustees at Northwest Community College, said he hopes the summit will serve to educate and motivate high school seniors.

“We want to let them know what employers are expecting of them when they apply for a job,” he said.

He shared his own story hoping to connect with youth.

“When I first graduated I couldn’t get a job because I had never had a job,” he said.

Employers typically ask where a person has worked and job experience has a lot to do with getting hired, he said.

“They ask, ‘what have you done?’

“Well, I grew up in a cotton patch, drove a tractor, picked cotton, fed cows and hogs,” he told a prospective employer.

“But that wasn’t what the job market was looking for,” Dawson said.

His first job outside the farm was stocking and checking groceries for a Piggly Wiggly store in Indianola, Miss. After a while Dawson was promoted to front-end supervisor of the check-out clerks.

After that he was accepted into a management training program and was transferred to Sunflower Foods in Clarksdale.

Banking was his last stop, and that opportunity appeared while he was sharing some job dissatisfaction with the bank branch manager where he deposited the store checks.

“I started out as an outside collector of past due loans for the bank,” Dawson said. “From there I spent 29 years in banking.”

Dawson said he shares his experience of what it was like looking for a first job with no relevant job experience, to getting that first job, to moving ahead - something that can be frightening for young graduating men and women.

He said giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay is important.

“And I tell my son, you never know who is looking at you - at what kind of job you are doing. It never goes unnoticed. Look your best and do your best.”

Vaughn Grisham, director of the McLean Institute for Community Development, is the invited speaker for the luncheon.

He said the primary focus of the institute when it was formed was to improve the economy of the North Mississippi area.

“We’ve had a great deal of success and now have projects in 33 different states, two Canadian provinces and in Russia,” he said.

Although the purpose is to improve the quality of life in communities through economic development, the means to do that is through education, the institute’s main focus.

He said there is no question that the process works.

“That’s what I study,” he said.

Grisham said he hopes this summit will meet the needs of both students, employers and the schools.

He believes that jobs in the future in this area will be limited to what is called “the knowledge industry.”

“The new times are revolutionary and we’ve got to prepare ourselves in different ways in how to relate to a knowledge economy,” he said. An example in our area would be industries that require specialized educational training such as the medical industry.

“And in many cases these youngsters will almost certainly be going back to school their whole lives,” he said.

Summit schedule

  • Registration - 8 a.m.
  • Industry/business panel -9:30 a.m.
  • Education/training panel - 11 a.m.
  • Lunch speaker - 12 p.m.
  • Afternoon panel - 1:30 p.m.

The names of invited panel members will be published next week.

This meeting is for elected officials, business and industry leaders, civic leaders, church officials, educators and high school seniors and their parents.

The summit will consist of several presentations regarding economic and educational outlook, question and answer segments and an action plan.

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