Student job site is 'On the Grid'

VANCLEAVE -- Brent Shows and Garrett Williams, both 16-year-old information technology students at Jackson County Technology Center, have an idea of what they want for their future. But they got a dose of inspiration this week from a new website that shows which jobs are in demand, what training is needed and how much different positions pay.

"Get on the Grid" was developed by the Mississippi Energy Institute to become the state's first online guidance counselor. Meredith Gunn, director of workforce development for the nonprofit agency, is taking it to students around the state to show them they don't have to leave Mississippi to get great jobs.

The website features jobs in energy, manufacturing and utilities, which she said are some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs in the state. With 150,000 openings in these fields in Mississippi, "there's plenty of opportunity here for you," she said.

The 12 career paths require mostly tech level, high school diploma or community college education, said Patrick Sullivan, executive director of the MEI. "They pay well above average and most importantly, they're in high demand in the economy."

While creating the website, they went to top industries, asked what skills are needed and created 30-second videos for each career. "We filmed at real locations," Sullivan said.

Gunn brought people who work in these jobs in South Mississippi to inspire the students Thursday at Vancleave and at Gulfport High School.

Scott Davis started out making $5 an hour at a shipyard and now is an electrical instructor at Chevron. "I love going to work," he told the students.

He's earned the $120,000-a-year salary the students said they dream of making one day and he said, "I did that at home."

He and the other speakers and teachers emphasized to the students they have a great opportunity, but they have to reach for it themselves.

"You've got to have a 'want to,'" Davis said. "As long as your 'want to' is strong, you will succeed. I promise you that."

By maintaining a B average at the technical program, students are eligible for a full scholarship to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he said.

Many of these students are already accomplished. Shows' Christian Worship Channel website has 285,000 followers.

Shows said he plans to check out "The Grid" website and Williams said, "It really helps when you want to stay home," but also want to make enough money to support a family.

Rickey Corker, IT instructor at Vancleave, said some of his students will graduate with five certificates -- a sort of Advanced Placement credit for techies. Kendra Cole, last year's valedictorian at Vancleave, was in the IT program and now is a student at USM. "She already has job offers," he said.

Carey Olsen, a Mississippi Power lineman, told the students the career fields are very competitive and the applicant with a certificate will get the job.

Cauncey Johnson graduated from Moss Point High School and went into polymer science at Ole Miss but told the students, "It just wasn't for me." Now he is a refinery operator at Chevron and although he doesn't have a college degree or a certificate, "my work skills cover my lack of education." He's decided to enroll in college in the spring. These tech jobs aren't just for men, he said, and for those who get the training, "they're going to be knocking at the door offering you jobs. It's going to be lucrative," he said.

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