PEARL ― As a college-bound high school student, T.J. Buie vowed he would never follow his father’s footsteps into the electrical business. Today, he has a decade of experience under his belt as a professional electrician and takes pride in working as a project superintendent for his family’s business, Buie Electric Service, in Florence.

“I wish I would have started sooner in this industry,” said Buie, 34, who is also an instructor for the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation. “There’s no top-out pay, and you’re always learning and growing. You can always find a job, too. Right now, many people are out of work because of the pandemic, but construction never stopped. I’m thankful to go to work every day.”

Buie grew up playing baseball and set his sights early on becoming a teacher and coach. After graduating from Pearl High School, he earned a degree in coaching and sports administration from the University of Southern Mississippi. But the future didn’t pan out exactly as he’d expected.

“I came out of college with a lot of student-loan debt, and when I went to my first interview for a coaching position, I realized I would be making more in the electrician apprentice program,” Buie said. “That’s when I decided it was time to make this a career. I could have avoided debt and been further along in my career had I gone straight into the electrical profession.”

Buie’s story is a familiar one for many aspiring trade professionals who begin their career journeys with MCEF, said Mike Barkett, MCEF president.

“Many students go to college because that’s what they’re expected to do, even though a trade profession would be a better fit for their interests and career goals,” Barkett said. “Mississippi’s construction industry is growing, and there’s never a shortage of stable, high-paying jobs. Thanks to T.J. and our teaching staff, students are getting a strong head start on their futures through MCEF’s accredited training programs.”

Buie appreciates the quality instruction he received in MCEF’s apprentice program, which follows guidelines set by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. NCCER is recognized as the training, assessment, certification and career development standard for construction and maintenance craft professionals.

MCEF’s program allows students to work as apprentice electricians during the day and attend classes at night. The core program also addresses job-preparation skills, such as interviewing and writing résumés, and MCEF offers prep classes for electricians who want to earn their journeymen licenses.

“Students in MCEF classes are usually sponsored by their employers, so that helps them out financially,” Buie said. “There are other schools that teach the same curriculum, but MCEF’s strength is on-the-job training. My classes usually number around 15, so students also get more one-on-one instruction.”

Another industry activity he enjoys is the annual MCEF SkillsUSA State Competition, which gives apprenticeship students an opportunity to compete for prizes and spots in the national competition. Buie won the state competition in 2014 and now serves as MCEF’s project manager for the residential and commercial competition for fourth-year students.

“It’s fun to watch students compete and see how they’re applying what they’ve learned in class,” he said. “The competition is also a friendly rivalry between businesses, and nothing makes me happier than seeing employees from my company win.”

In reflecting on his career path, Buie appreciates that being affiliated with MCEF has given him the opportunity to do something he loves.

“When I think of my degree, I’m still teaching — just a different subject,” Buie said. “The most fulfilling part is seeing the light go off when students finally understand a concept. The professional growth I’ve seen in students is tremendous, and a lot of that goes to MCEF and their commitment — they’re focused on providing quality training and certification programs that prepare students for success.”

MCEF is a non-profit educational foundation that provides NCCER craft training and credentialing in more than 100 career and technical programs across the state. The foundation’s mission is to train individuals for the construction and manufacturing industries in Mississippi.

MCEF also offers workforce training and credentialing in construction, industrial maintenance and manufacturing trades. Learn more at http://mcef.net.