Hurricane Katrina

GREAT goal is awareness

GULFPORT - The goal is to get 20,000 new construction workers across the Gulf Coast trained and in the marketplace in three years.

The difficulty, however, probably isn't in getting training programs established. It certainly won't be from the demand side of the equation, with residential, commercial and industrial builders clamoring for more workers.

"The big issue is going to be can we get a large enough number of people aware of this, to recognize how much it will mean to them so they'll sign up and participate in the program," Gov. Haley Barbour said at the Mississippi kickoff of the GREAT campaign.

Gulf Rebuild: Education, Advancement and Training is a marketing campaign to help point people in that direction. The announcement came at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's Jefferson Davis campus, where funding from an array of sources has already helped gear up basic construction curriculums that have produced about 250 graduates from 30 classes.

While the politicians, businessmen and school officials trumpeted the start of the program, instructor Chris Crocker was teaching a heating and cooling class across campus.

"A lot of folks that come through have lost everything they own, people that want to repair everything in their home by themselves," he said. "They're looking for the day they can get out and find a job and get back to work."

The programs are four-week, 160-hour courses, and include advanced training in single crafts and multicraft training at a basic level.

Chris Goodwin, 27, has been working in the air-conditioning business for the last 1½ years. "I came to get my license so I can keep doing what I've been doing," said Goodwin.

The Gulf Coast Work Force Development Initiative is funding GREAT, which kicked off previously in Louisiana and will do so soon in Texas. The initiative is a partnership of business groups, educators, construction trade groups and governments that came together to help rebuild after Katrina and Rita. Business Roundtable, an association of 160 CEOs of major companies, is committing $5 million to the initiative.

The initiative mirrors, in many ways, the efforts at Mississippi Gulf Coast to get workers trained.

"I've never had so many bosses," said Anna Faye Kelley-Winders, vice president of community campus, which oversees the school's work force training programs.

She listed the U.S. Department of Labor, Mississippi Department of Employment Security, State Board for Community and Junior Colleges and national and state construction education foundations among the many she's been working with to get funding and accreditation for the programs.

GREAT will also help recruit students at Pearl River Community College and Jones County Junior College and at other locations throughout the state.

GREAT program

The Gulf Rebuild: Education, Advancement and Training campaign is a recruitment effort seeking to get 20,000 new construction workers trained on the Gulf Coast. For more information, call (888) 52-GREAT (888-524-7328) or check the Web site.