Cecil Brown of the Mississippi Public Service Commissioner’s office was the guest speaker for Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s American Graduate Workforce Wednesday Luncheon held Wednesday, August 21 at MPB.
Brown is the Central District Public Service Commissioner for the state agency. His speech centered on what the workforce is in Mississippi, who makes up the workforce and what the Commission is doing regarding workforce issues in utility areas.
To define workforce, Brown shared he really doesn’t agree with economists’ definition of the term. In his opinion, the workforce is everyone, including those of all races, socioeconomic status, people with degrees and those without, those working and those looking for work.
“We are talking about people with individual skills, dreams, families, problems and health issues,” he said. “The workforce is not just one group of people.”
Brown noted two top reasons the workforce is so important.
No. 1, the workforce impacts the economy and everyone wants it to be successful. But keep in mind there are 28,000 people working in state government and certainly they don’t all have the same issues and concerns. No. 2, social outcomes are important, too. You want people to have healthy and happy lives.
“It’s in our best interest collectively if that happens,” Brown said.
Despite the 5.1% historic low unemployment rate in Mississippi, there’s still work to do in the state based on data Brown shared.
For example, in July 2019 there were 60,000 fewer workers in Mississippi than 10 years ago. For 30 years, Mississippi’s per capita income has been the lowest in United States. The labor participation rate is currently 56% in Mississippi, meaning 44% of people who could be working are not looking for jobs.
“It’s not so simple to say you ought to get a job,” Brown explained. In the 22 counties he covers that consist mostly of small towns, there are not plentiful jobs available. It’s better to be self-employed in those areas.
A solution to workforce issues isn’t concrete, but Brown said we need leadership that doesn’t paint the picture that everything is rosy. One long-term solution is education and making sure that schools succeed. “We can do better,” he said. “We have successful school districts in poverty areas of the state.”
As for efforts from the Central District, for the past three years the agency has been trying to get all kids coming from high school or college exposed to the utility industry and the job opportunities in it. The Central District has met with colleges, universities and the IHL Board to ensure schools are connected. Turnovers at schools pose a challenge to those efforts.