Meeting the needs of Students, Corporations, and Communities

Interview with Gayle Brown, a workforce developer and grant writer at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC)

Successful apprenticeship programs require strong partnerships between the business community and educational institutions. The Mississippi Apprenticeship Program works closely with Mississippi’s community colleges to develop custom apprenticeship programs that benefit both career-seekers and businesses — good-paying jobs and a highly-skilled workforce.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) is an example of how community colleges are working with local business and industry leaders to provide Mississippi workers with high-quality opportunities.

We interviewed Gayle Brown, a workforce developer and grant writer at MGCCC, about the value the institution brings to people and companies in its community. 

Tell us about your work at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College? 

I was blessed to be hired by Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College four years ago as the grant writer and special projects developer. My position has evolved into grant writing as needed and working full time on workforce development, where I assist employers in finding various workforce solutions.  Apprenticeships have become a realistic and viable solution for several of the companies with which I work.  

I facilitate relationship-building with various industries. .For the hospitality industry, the priority is creating a partnership between businesses and secondary education that create pathways to hospitality careers aligned with MGCCC courses, as well as internships and full-time hospitality jobs.  For financial services and manufacturing, the work involves creating programs to fill skills gaps or connecting students with academic opportunities such as participating in an industry advisory council for the College’s degree programs.  MGCCC is built on employer and industry partnerships to provide training and education in the occupations that matter to the Mississippi Gulf Coast economy. I thoroughly enjoy my job and love working for MGCC.

How are you working with the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program? 

The Mississippi Apprenticeship Program has been lagniappe for me—a little something extra! When I first began developing an apprenticeship program for a company, I was not affiliated with MAP. I can say that MAP brings credibility to my apprenticeship efforts. The connection to MAP represents something more significant than a customized training approach for a local company. MAP is in daily and constant communication with the Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship, making them an excellent resource. Information is continually being shared with me by MAP to increase my knowledge and strengthen our program offerings. The training and resources MAP provides to our institution have been beneficial.  Being under the MAP umbrella, I feel the program can impact employers and the entire region.    

What are some successes you’ve experienced with the apprenticeship? 

Each apprenticeship program feels like a tremendous success because it is customized to the employer’s workforce needs. Two of the programs I have developed and implemented that have received a lot of attention are the branch manager program for Keesler Federal Credit Union (KFCU) and Halter Marine’s program.  Keesler Federal’s registered apprenticeship program is for Branch Managers. Because there are 27 Keesler Federal branch locations, the program had to be online to allow employees from across the country to participate. College routinely provides classroom instruction online, but only to credit students. Setting up an online program for noncredit students, i.e., workforce students, was entirely new for MGCCC and our state.  And running a noncredit online financial industry apprenticeship program was something new for the financial industry nationally. Keesler Federal has fielded many calls from their industry since the launch of the program. 

The unique element is that the program’s courses are all eligible for competency-based exam (CBE) credit. At the end of the program, an apprentice can pay a fee (or in this case, Keesler Federal) to take a CBE. If they pass the exam, they can receive academic credit for the class. This provision is set up through the Mississippi Community College Board. It represents the apprentices’ best solution because they can earn college credit through a low-cost (to the employer) workforce class. 

Halter Marine is partnering with the US Coast Guard to build two to three polar ice cutters over the next six years. This partnership with the US Military requires a highly-skilled workforce and a company with an apprenticeship program. I worked with Halter to develop five separate apprenticeship programs, which began on September 1, 2020. These programs include electrical welding, pipe welding, pipe fitting, and ship-fitting.  The U.S. Department of Labor approved an additional six plans that will be implemented in the future. This effort was a massive endeavor for Halter because it lays a foundation for all of its shipbuilding contracts in the future.  They have expanded their workforce by more than 900 employees in the last year, so the MGCCC is excited to be partnering in the training of the next generation of shipbuilders in Jackson County.

Why is apprenticeship important for MGCCC students? 

 According to Brenda Myers, the U.S. DOL Office of Apprenticeship state director, apprenticeships are essential to students because these programs offer a pathway to the middle class. Apprentices gain steady employment with built-in training and college classes, and incremental wage increases, requiring a required apprenticeship program component. And apprentices do not pay for their education, so they do not accumulate education-related debt. The apprenticeship program’s mentoring piece gives the apprentice opportunities to have intentional conversations with a supervisor-level worker, which exposes the apprentice to relationships and work options that are not available ordinarily. Apprentices feel valued and appreciated by the company, which leads to a 94% retention rate nationally. With the low-interest rates we are currently experiencing, it has been so gratifying to hear the Halter Marine apprentices talk about purchasing their first home or car. Truly the American dream.

 Why is apprenticeship important for Mississippi? 

 As I mentioned before, apprenticeships represent a pathway to the middle class.  I also believe apprenticeship programs create a level playing field for our workers in terms of the skills and education they earn. The apprenticeship programs in which they are participating are nationally recognized and vetted. Upon completing the apprenticeship program, apprentices receive a national, portable Department of Labor Journeyworker certificate, indicating their craft proficiency.  Although the apprentice is now very marketable, keeping them in Mississippi (employed and owning a home) raises the local workforce’s caliber and increases product quality.

What would you say about an apprenticeship to business leaders who are considering an apprenticeship program as a strategy for their business? 

The apprenticeship model has been an excellent solution for companies in that it is a customized training program combining on-the-job training and classroom instruction.  Apprentices learn in the classroom, apply what they have learned, and are mentored by someone in the company.  Training is consistent across multiple locations, and from year to year, apprentices feel valued, and loyalty is created, and they are earning excellent wages.  For a company, it can represent a solution to an anticipated skills gap, an upskilling of their workforce, or a new venture to capture the competitive edge in their industry.

What would you say about an apprenticeship to a student or job seeker who is thinking about their next career steps?  

If a company has an Apprenticeship program, you want to work for them!  The company is forward-thinking and invests time and resources to develop their employees. Apprenticeship programs provide upward mobility at little to no cost to the apprentice and will significantly benefit their future and career if they are willing to do the work.

For more information about apprenticeship programs, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.