Insights > Education and workforce development go hand-in-hand in building a better future for Mississippi
Education and workforce development go hand-in-hand in building a better future for Mississippi
Starting a century ago with a handful of consulting engineers in Jackson, Entergy now employs more than 2,500 diversely skilled employees in Mississippi who focus every day on powering life for customers and communities.
As the company progressed through the decades, so did its workforce needs. New technologies and computerization began transforming the industry, creating a greater demand for employees with science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, expertise. The need surged when a workforce of thousands converged on Port Gibson in the 1970s to build and eventually operate Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.
In response, Entergy sought new strategies to enhance educational resources for schools while promoting career pathways in the utility industry and beyond—a model that continues driving positive outcomes for students and employers throughout the company’s 45-county service area in Mississippi.
Support and advocacy strengthen preK-12 education
In 1979, the company launched “Energy in Education,” an initiative that addressed educational improvements from a variety of angles and built direct connections between Entergy Mississippi and secondary school classrooms. It also dovetailed with Teamwork Mississippi efforts to strengthen economic and workforce development.
“The company had always been a public proponent of education, but now they were providing an overall structure and framework to proceed in new directions that would make a difference,” said Larry Hogue, who managed the educational services department from 1979 until his retirement in 1996. “We wanted to develop and promote major programs to improve education in Mississippi that would also support changing workforce needs.”
An early emphasis was dropout prevention. Entergy Mississippi was a sponsor of “Choices,” a program that recruited business and industry volunteers, including company employees, to talk to high school freshmen about the importance of staying in school and graduating.
Another successful program was “Homework Hotline,” a toll-free number that students anywhere in Mississippi could call to receive homework assistance from trained teachers, with an emphasis on science and math.
Hogue’s department also took Entergy’s show on the road by presenting a multimedia school assembly program that explored the wonders of electricity, including how static electricity is made.
“Students would stand on an electrostatic generator, and it would generate enough electricity to make their hair stand on end,” Hogue recalled. “It was a popular program.”
To highlight the growing need for computer skills, Entergy Mississippi helped establish a computer literacy lab in Jackson that served students throughout the metro area. In 2001, President and CEO Carolyn (Shanks) Correro traveled the state with Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to build support and funding for an initiative that resulted in Mississippi becoming the first state in the nation to have an internet-accessible computer in every classroom.
“The response from Mississippi’s business community was overwhelming,” Correro said. “They understood the importance of providing access to new technologies and making sure students acquired skills to be successful in school and in the workplace. Achieving the initiative’s goal was a moment of pride for all Mississippians.”
Expanding access to quality pre-K education was another statewide imperative that received a boost from Entergy Mississippi. The company’s early advocacy and investments in programs such as Mississippi Building Blocks and Excel By 5 helped lay the groundwork for passage of the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, which established Mississippi’s first state-funded pre-K program.
Making sure students are able to continue their education after high school is the goal of Kids to College, a program created in partnership with the Children’s Foundation of Mississippi to help families establish savings accounts for their children to attend a two- or four-year college, trade school or technical school. By saving at least $50, account holders receive a $50 match from Entergy.
Higher ed partnerships prepare Mississippians for the future
In recent decades, partnerships in higher education—with an emphasis on Historically Black Colleges and Universities—have created scholarship and job-training opportunities for students while building a talent pipeline to power Entergy’s and Mississippi’s workforce needs.
In 2007, Entergy Nuclear and Alcorn State University worked with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to develop the state’s first radiation technology program, which also is the only program of its kind in the nation involving an HBCU. Alcorn State is located in Lorman, roughly 20 miles south of Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.
Entergy Nuclear’s annual $50,000 contribution to Alcorn State’s radiation technology program helps fund scholarships and campus training resources, and internships are structured to prepare students for nuclear industry careers. Through an Entergy Scholars program, employees mentor students for a semester and lead classes on campus to enhance soft skills and career preparation.
To improve workforce alignment, Alcorn State established an office on campus for Entergy’s director of workforce development and talent pipelines, Betina Brandon.
“Having a presence on campus gives Entergy a seat at the table to help develop the program curriculum and ensure that students are prepared for the workforce when they graduate,” said Brandon, who also serves on Alcorn State’s Advanced Technology Advisory Board. “I’m able to interact routinely with the university’s president, provost, dean and others who play key roles in advancing our partnership.”
Area high schools also get involved. During annual field days at Alcorn State, students tour the campus training lab and interact with Grand Gulf employees to learn about industry careers. Through a partnership with Claiborne County, Entergy employees lead summer school programs in the community for high school juniors and seniors focusing on STEM education and workplace skills.
Building an engineering pipeline is another workforce priority. Based on the success of Alcorn State’s Entergy Scholars program, Entergy Mississippi launched a similar program for Jackson State University’s engineering majors. At Mississippi State University, Entergy participates in recruiting activities and summer camps with engineering students.
Employees also provide input into lineworker training programs offered at several community colleges in Mississippi.
At Tougaloo College in Jackson, Entergy employees support Jackson Public Schools-Tougaloo Early College High School, or JTECHS, a program that allows students to take college courses during high school and graduate with associate degrees or credits toward bachelor’s degrees.
Each month during the school year, employees from different departments lead hands-on training sessions with JTECHS students to provide insights into utility industry career paths and associated education and training requirements.
“Employees appreciate opportunities to give back to their communities by helping students build strong foundations for the future,” said Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi. “It all starts with having a high-quality education system at all levels that prepares students for rewarding careers and responds to Mississippi’s workforce needs. We believe supporting education is an investment in the future that will prepare the next generation of leaders for Entergy and for Mississippi.”