PEARL ― If your goal is to prepare the best craftsmen, you need to recruit the best teachers. It’s a winning strategy for the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, where the state’s top trade professionals are helping build a skilled workforce for Mississippi’s construction industry.

“Our apprentice programs are led by experts who take pride in their craft and work to instill high standards of performance in their students,” said Mike Barkett, MCEF president. “They appreciate the role that training, education and mentoring played in their success, and they’re making sure their students benefit from hands-on learning experiences provided by MCEF.”

Students who enroll in MCEF’s program work as trade apprentices during the day and attend classes at night. The core program also addresses related subjects such as safety training and communication and job-preparation skills. Apprentice students are usually sponsored by their employers, which makes MCEF training an investment in workforce development.

MCEF instructors are certified by the National Center for Construction Education & Research, and students who successfully complete their programs earn NCCER credentials. Because most instructors completed their certifications through MCEF, they understand the needs and expectations of students who want to excel in their career journeys.

Some MCEF instructors began their educational journeys with different careers in mind, including HVAC instructor Scott Berryhill, who enrolled in college after graduating from Pearl High School to study banking and finance. He soon discovered that he preferred working with his hands to working behind a desk.

“In sheet metal, I feel a sense of accomplishment and take pride in what I’ve done,” said Berryhill, a project manager for Climate Masters in Pearl. “At MCEF, we are helping produce professionals who are well-versed in their craft. There are great opportunities in the construction industry for skilled professionals, and they can start making a good living at an early age.”

Electrical instructor Paul Lavallee wanted to become a professional musician. But after high school, a maintenance job involving electrical work inspired him to change course.

Today, he owns his own company, teaches aspiring electricians at the MCEF Training Center, and plays trombone as often as he likes as a member of the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.

“Opportunity is what drew me to the electrical profession,” said Lavallee, who opened Lavallee Electrical Services in Clinton in 2016. “There will always be a demand in the industry for smart, competent people who are hard-working. It’s also reassuring that I can go anywhere, and my qualifications will go with me.”

Electrical instructor T.J. 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 before discovering the profession he enjoys today.

“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,” said Buie, project superintendent for Buie Electric Service in Florence. “That’s when I decided it was time to make this a career.”

As high-performing trainers and craftsmen, it’s no coincidence that all three instructors were also past division winners in the annual MCEF SkillsUSA State Competition. Seeing their students excel in the competition — and in their professional journeys — is a source of pride for them.

“It’s fun to watch students compete and see how they’re applying what they’ve learned in class,” said Buie, who serves as project manager for the residential and commercial competition for fourth-year students. “The competition is also a friendly rivalry between businesses, and nothing makes me happier than seeing employees from my company win.”

“I’m most fulfilled when I see the impact my classes have made on students,” Lavallee said. “My main goal is to push them to be the best they can be and to solve problems and think for themselves. Sometimes I’ll run into former students who are doing well as professional electricians, and they will thank me. That makes everything worth it.”

“It’s a good feeling to see trainees go out and do a good job and take pride in their work,” Berryhill said. “Employers are making a good investment in the future when they send employees through MCEF training programs. Our goal is to make sure they get the best training possible, and we’re always striving to improve.”

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