Leggett Gives Back to Her Hometown as a High School Career Coach
JACKSON, MS – Mississippi won’t be held back by a workforce gap in trade skills if Collyn Leggett has anything to do with it. As an AccelerateMS career coach for Northeast Jones and West Jones high schools, she’s building connections between students and community employers while promoting pathways to in-demand careers in Mississippi.
“Students have so much potential to be the next generation of leaders for our community,” Leggett said. “Career and technical education programs are great at exposing high-school students to workplace opportunities and helping them acquire skills to be successful. A career coach is another person in their corner, helping them find careers they’re passionate about and that they enjoy.”
A graduate of West Jones High School, Leggett is excited about returning to her alma mater to be part of the career-coaching initiative launched last fall by AccelerateMS, the state’s lead workforce development agency. She’s one of more than 180 career coaches who are helping high school students across Mississippi find successful paths into the workforce.
By 2025, Mississippi will need more than 80,000 qualified professionals to meet the needs of growing industries such as health care, construction, computer science and other fields typically offered in high school career and technical education programs. As a career coach, Leggett works with CTE students at Jones County Career Technical Center to help them find their place in Mississippi’s workforce.
“If you ask any of the community college CTE instructors, they’ll tell you that they’re always hearing from employers who need skilled workers,” Leggett said. “There aren’t enough people with the right credentials to fill many of those jobs. Students are realizing that if they stick with a program, like welding or computer-aided drafting, they’ll have a lot of opportunities to create meaningful careers for themselves.”
Bringing local businesses and industries on board is an important aspect of Leggett’s job. As a career coach, she’s skilled at creating opportunities for employers to get more involved in CTE programs. An example is “career cluster” events, during which area employers meet with students to discuss career pathways and provide tips on how to make positive impressions when applying and interviewing for jobs.
Participating industries have included health care, electric utility, engineering, manufacturing, forestry, and hospitality and tourism.
“Putting students in touch with business leaders is a way for them to get a foot in the door and learn how to move forward more efficiently,” Leggett said. “They can also learn about job opportunities and part-time positions. We couldn’t do this without our business and industry partners—they’re helping students get where they need to go.”
Leggett also organizes business and industry field trips so students can learn about job opportunities, observe work processes and gain a better understanding of the connections between CTE instruction and workplace expectations.
Community support is vital in providing real-world experiences that help students make more informed decisions about the future. Leggett has seen many students benefit from job-shadowing opportunities with local businesses.
By job shadowing in two different child-care facilities, one student found that she preferred a full-scale daycare environment and was encouraged to apply for a position. Now she’s working at a job she loves while earning her associate’s degree at Jones College.
Another student knew she wanted to work in children’s health care but wasn’t sure what route to take. While job shadowing at South Central Regional Medical Center, she became interested in pediatric speech pathology and audiology and got a part-time job in the speech therapy clinic.
“Job shadows are my favorite because students come back and say, ‘That’s not what I want to be,’ and we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Leggett said. “It’s the best way for them to have a low-commitment type of experience where they can learn about specific jobs and gain perspectives from people who are working in them.”
After graduating from West Jones High School, Leggett majored in world languages with an emphasis in Spanish at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she also earned a master’s degree in communication studies. Returning to West Jones and Northeast Jones as a career coach has given her a deeper appreciation for CTE and the many ways it benefits students, employers and workforce development in Mississippi.
“Brain drain is real, and when students leave Mississippi and take their skills elsewhere, that has a negative impact on our state,” Leggett said. “A lot of students want to stay here, and they’re hearing more positive things about Mississippi and the quality of life here. And Jones County has grown exponentially in the last decade. Students have seen this progress in real-time, and they’re excited about staying in Mississippi and being part of the workforce.”
AccelerateMS serves the people and businesses of Mississippi by developing and deploying workforce strategies to connect individuals with transformative, high-paying careers. By leveraging resources and partnering with organizations that hold complementary missions, AccelerateMS effectuates positive change, creating sustained individual, community, and, statewide economic prosperity.