- Associated Press - Saturday, January 14, 2017

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - A new Furniture Academy in Mississippi is designed to give workers the skills they need for manufacturing jobs.

Colleges and economic development groups are working with furniture makers to create the 28-hour program, which is an introduction to how the industry works. The academy includes training in teamwork and problem solving, developing a work ethic and gaining financial awareness and life skills.

With a $12 billion economic impact in Mississippi, the furniture industry includes manufacturers and suppliers that employ about 60,000 people directly and indirectly. There’s a growing need for skilled and trained workers as the industry continues to recover from the recession, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported (http://bit.ly/2is424A).

“The furniture industry is making a comeback,” said Bill Renick, of Three Rivers Planning and Development District. “Just look at the companies that are adding workers today.”

The Furniture Academy is funded through a $250,000 state grant. It begins Feb. 13, with a goal of signing up 300 people. The free program will take two to three weeks to complete.

Classes will be taught at Itawamba Community College and Northeast Mississippi Community College, which will set a schedule based on the needs of those who enroll.

It is open to both new hires and current employees at participating furniture manufacturers. The list includes H.M. Richards of Baldwyn, Homestretch in Nettleton, Kevin Charles Furniture in New Albany, Max Home of Fulton and Iuka and Southern Motion of Pontotoc and Baldwyn. The five companies, combined, employ about 3,000 workers.

“It’s open to everyone in the industry, and we want more to participate,” said Rusty Berryhill, president of Kevin Charles. “We may be competitors and rivals, but we’re all in this together to help the industry.”

An incentive for academy graduates is that their job applications will move to the front of the line for consideration. If hired, they’ll receive extra pay.

“That was something we let the companies decide on,” Renick said. “It’s up to each company to determine how much more they’ll pay.”

Other partners in the Furniture Academy include the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State University and the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo.

“The Furniture Academy will ensure northeast Mississippi has a skilled, robust workforce to see the demand of the region’s manufacturers,” Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said. “I am grateful to the local industries, educational systems and community organizations whose partnership made it a reality.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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