PEARL ― If there is someone whom Mississippians can thank for modernizing the state’s career and technical education programs, it makes sense to start with Perry Nations. In recognition of his contributions to craft education and workforce development, Nations received the 2020 President’s Hard Hat Award from the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation during a virtual awards program on June 19.

“Perry is a true visionary in understanding the need for high-quality craft training programs in our high schools and the benefits it can produce for Mississippi,” said Mike Barkett, MCEF president. “He helped bring all the right players to the table to make career and technical education a priority and to improve its appeal to new generations of Mississippians.”

Nations has a long history of involvement in the state’s construction industry and played a key role in MCEF’s formation in 1996. He served on MCEF’s board for two decades before being named vice president of legislative affairs in 2013, a position he still holds. Before MCEF, he was executive director of Associated General Contractors, where he worked for 35 years.

“What an honor to be part of such an important movement,” Nations said. “MCEF was created in response to a demand for better training programs to meet the needs of Mississippi’s construction industry. We have worked hard to improve the perception of CTE, and we are thrilled that so many young people are now considering trade careers.”

In the 1990s, Nations and fellow construction industry advocates in Mississippi partnered with the National Center for Construction Education and Research and the Mississippi Department of Education to develop a modernized curriculum for the state’s high schools. Nations also worked to get legislation passed that created a funding mechanism for CTE programs based on contractor licensing fees. The approach was a success.

“We were floored by the positive reception we got from schools that adopted the new curriculum,” Nations said. “We continued working with the legislature on additional funding increases, and we started grant programs to fund tuition for students interested in career and technical education.”

A native of Jackson, Nations worked as a journalist in high school and college and was employed as a reporter and photographer for The Clarion-Ledger for 11 years. In 1964, he was hired by the Mississippi Agricultural and Industrial Board (a precursor of the Mississippi Development Authority) to promote travel and tourism in the state.

Nations also was involved in youth baseball in Mississippi and coached league teams for 17 years. Standout players included his sons, Lee and Scott Nations, both of whom played on championship teams. Lee followed in his father’s footsteps as a construction industry advocate and is currently president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors.

Nations said he has been pleased with the steady growth of CTE programs throughout the state and their embrace of new technologies and career pathways. Today, more than 6,000 students in Mississippi are enrolled in CTE programs at 109 high schools.

“It’s important for young people to know that college is not the only path to success,” Nations said. “Many of the most stable, well-paying jobs do not require a degree, and our graduates can work just about anywhere because our programs are nationally accredited. It’s also a great path to entrepreneurship because many men and women who start out in the trades end up owning their own companies.”

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 about MCEF at