PEARL ― Jairon Cunningham of West Point wants to learn the skills required to build his own house one day. As a freshman studying electrical technology at East Mississippi Community College, he’s steadily building his dream into reality.

“Construction is all around us,” said Cunningham, a 2021 graduate of West Point High School. “It builds our homes, schools, offices, roads, hospitals – everything. It is vital to everyone’s life, and I love being part of it.”

Cunningham’s observation is more relevant than ever. According to the Home Builder Institute, the construction industry needs more than 2 million more workers over the next three years to keep up with the booming demand for new houses amid the labor shortage.

“Jairon and others who are preparing for construction careers have chosen a perfect time to enter the industry,” said Mike Barkett, president of the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation. “We’ve been working hard at MCEF to prepare new generations of Mississippians for rewarding futures, and we’re seeing it pay off as more high school and college graduates find great careers in a high-demand industry.”

MCEF also helps students meet and network with construction industry professionals from around the state. As a high school student in 2019, Cunningham enrolled in Mississippi State’s first-ever iBuild Summer Camp presented in partnership with MCEF, which provided four days of hands-on building experiences for 21 students ages 12-17. That’s where he met Christee Holbrook, owner and president of West Point-based Graham Roofing, Inc.

“The camp was a lot of fun and truly heightened my urge to become a certified craft professional,” said Cunningham, who started interning last fall with Graham Roofing. “It’s amazing how much I learned in only one week not to mention the number of possibilities and opportunities it opened up for me.”

Holbrook agrees.

“Helping mentor and prepare the future workforce is my passion,” Holbrook said. “By employing interns and co-op students, we are exposing more young people to the roofing industry while bringing a different perspective and fresh eyes to our company.”

Cunningham is currently interning in the sheet metal shop at Graham Roofing, where he’s learning how to fabricate and install sheet metal for gutters, downspouts, flashing, and other applications.

“Our interns are able to get hands-on experience in different areas, and they can also shadow other positions, like estimators and salespeople,” Holbrook said. “Jairon’s supervisor loves working with him and especially appreciates his desire to learn new things.”

In addition to acquiring new construction skills at Graham Roofing, Cunningham is gaining experience in other aspects of employment that are just as critical for employers.

“They’re teaching me the importance of being at work on time, communicating, stepping outside my comfort zone, and developing a watchful learning style,” he said. “Developing a strong work ethic today will help drive my success in the future.”

At EMCC, Cunningham has embarked on the academic portion of his career journey as an electrical technology major. The program prepares students for careers in all areas of the electrical profession, such as construction-related electrician, industry maintenance technician, PLC programmer, residential wiring technician and electrician’s helper.

“In the electrical technology program, time management is very critical with the load of work we’re given,” Cunningham said. “I have the mindset of wanting to know it all, so I was initially interested in being a general contractor.”

As he continues learning new skills and gaining real-world experience at Graham Roofing, Cunningham will have even more career options to consider when he enters the construction workforce.

“You can do so much in construction, and there are so many areas you can specialize in, like safety and marketing,” Holbrook said. “No matter what area they want to specialize in, our interns are learning the fundamentals of roofing, which will be very important in their future careers in construction.”

MCEF is a non-profit educational foundation that provides NCCER craft training and credentialing in 112 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 about MCEF at http://mcef.net.