JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi business leaders will start honoring graduating high school students choosing technical careers.
The Mississippi Economic Council announced Wednesday that it would sponsor a new "tech master" program that would recognize graduating high school seniors who meet certain standards in a technical curriculum.
The program will run in parallel with the existing Mississippi Scholars program, in which MEC recognizes high school seniors who hit certain standards in a college preparatory curriculum.
Irwin Edenzon, outgoing president of Pascagoula's Ingalls Shipbuilding, said a group of business leaders agreed on the standards. They include a 2.5 grade-point average on a high school curriculum that includes geometry, a minimum score of 18 on the ACT college test, and passing a career certification test. Students would also have to complete 40 hours of community service before graduating.
"We need candidates that have basic skills in math, communications and blueprint reading," said Edenzon, who heads Mississippi's largest manufacturing employer, with more than 10,000 employees.
He said those kinds of applicants are increasingly in short supply, even though the state built Ingalls a 70,000 square-foot training center and the company pays well.
"Even with this investment, we cannot meet our demand for skilled craftspeople," Edenzon said.
The program will be piloted in seven counties this year including Bolivar, Jackson, Jones, Lincoln, Madison, Panola and Union. MEC officials said they hope to roll the program out to other school systems in the future. The Mississippi Scholars program currently operates in 160 high schools in 88 school districts. Vickie Powell, the MEC employee coordinating the effort, said the scholars program recognized about 3,000 graduates last year.
"We want these kids to be career and workforce ready," Powell said. "When you recognize kids, you are adding value to them."
Powell said local communities would be encouraged to raise scholarship money to give to tech master graduates, in the same way that they raise money for Mississippi Scholars graduates.
Edenzon says Ingalls needs more qualified applicants and his company will give preference to tech master graduates in the hiring process.
"Hopefully, that will give students an incentive to participate in the process," he said.