By Hu Meena and Dr. Mark E. Keenum
Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, a lifelong advocate of advancing educational and jobs training opportunities, has often repeated this simple but cogent observation: “The only road out of poverty and economic dependency runs past the schoolhouse door.”
Winter understood the important role that the educational system plays in the jobs pipeline. In recent years, our state has witnessed substantive change as technological advancements and economic globalization have placed increased importance on innovation, creativity and new educational approaches at all levels in our state.
There are tremendous economic and job opportunities for people who live and work in places that quickly adapt to the new, digital economy. While some parts of the country are ahead of the curve in equipping the workforce of the future, there are many states, including Mississippi, that need to accelerate their efforts.
Technology and our U.S. economy are increasingly driven by software. Those who possess the knowledge, creativity and vision to program and manage software have an advantage over everyone else. Coding and software engineering are highly coveted skills that we need to stay competitive and build our future in a data-driven world.
The path to economic growth and enhanced opportunity in Mississippi’s private sector must begin in elementary and secondary education and continue seamlessly through the workforce training capabilities of our stellar community college system and on to the research and development expertise of our higher education system.
Seizing on this opportunity, C Spire, a Mississippi-based diversified telecommunications and technology services company, and the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit’s (RCU) new Center for Cyber Education have formed a public-private partnership called the C Spire Software Development Pathway.
The MSU Center for Cyber Education will build upon the RCU’s longstanding work in K-12 computer science education, teacher training and teacher recruitment. Under the three-year pilot program, C Spire and state education officials are estimating the new program can deliver over 90 percent more Mississippi graduates qualified for entry-level software development jobs than existing programs.
This should help close the skills gap for this exciting growth profession in Mississippi and move the state toward a robust K-12 computer science curriculum. Key partners in this initiative include the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Community College Board.
The pilot Software Development Pathway program will utilize customized curriculum from the Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley, which C Spire helped develop. The pilot program will offer two years of specialized software development curriculum in high school and one year in community college beginning in the fall of 2019.
The program will train 30 teachers and give computer science job opportunities to 150 students from selected schools after two years of specialized course work in high school and one year in community college.
C Spire will fund the program for its first year and provide partial funding in the second and third years while seeking additional partners to help finance the outlying years.
It is our shared hope that this innovative partnership can become a template for education and workforce training as Mississippi’s public and private sectors form stronger alliances to build a more robust economic environment for this generation of students and workers and those who will follow them.
The benefit to all three components of the state’s education system – secondary, community college and university – are obvious. Input and collaboration with those seeking to hire our graduates make the path to placement in high quality employment and opportunities easier and more immediate.
For C Spire and other like-minded companies in the state, this program creates a pipeline of strategically and specifically trained job applicants who are equipped to enjoy a high degree of success in the job market. Developing and delivering collaborative educational and workforce training pathways from the classroom to modern technology workspaces is a vision we believe is shared by leaders in state government as well as the business sector.
As a technology company born in Mississippi and led by Mississippians, C Spire’s role in this innovative program is a natural one. As Mississippi’s leading research university, the same can be said for Mississippi State University’s role as well.
Using education and workforce training as the guideposts to a better life for future generations are shared values and priorities for both companies, business leaders, lawmakers and educators. Interjecting strategic planning from the business community makes sense and should produce the opportunity for more young Mississippians to have the option to remain in our state and build lives and careers here, rather than having to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
Hu Meena is CEO of C Spire
Dr. Mark E. Keenum is president of Mississippi State University