Nov. 14, 2014 10:30 AM

With the help of WISE grant funding, SLCC is poised to help meet the region's exploding demand for skilled workers.

South Louisiana Community College knows Acadiana and Louisiana will see an unprecedented industrial expansion during the next decade. In fact, the college began addressing workforce needs last year when it realigned its programs to better suit the industries that drive our economies. Along with the realignment, we also developed advisory boards made up of industry leaders for all of our programs. Board members helped shape curriculum, tailoring it so that students are well-prepared to enter the workforce after graduation.

As a result, enrollment has increased, ultimately leading to a larger graduating class and an increase in Acadiana's skilled workforce.

In October the college received $1.5 million in Workforce & Innovation for a Stronger Economy funds from the state to help these realignment efforts and enhance the college's workforce-training programs.

These funds will establish and/or expand programs in six areas that support the impending industrial growth: application software development, customized manufacturing machinists, machine tool technology, oil and gas, painting and coating, and welding.

These programs will address the current and future needs in these industries across cities such as Abbeville, Crowley, Franklin, Lafayette, New Iberia, Opelousas, St. Martinville and Ville Platte.

Software development: A recent analysis revealed that Louisiana could see the creation of 23,000 jobs focused on the software industry in the next 20 years. Additionally, if the current graduation rate of software development students from state universities holds steady, a gap of 4,600 unfilled positions will exist. SLCC is bridging this potential gap with the state's only software application development program. The program began just as IT giants CGI, Perficient and Enquero announced plans to locate in Lafayette, bringing with them nearly 1,000 jobs. SLCC students began classes this fall and will be workforce-ready by spring.

Customized manufacturing machinists: The community college will meet the demands of CNC machinists by increasing its day and evening courses in manufacturing/machining. By doing so, SLCC will prepare more workers for additional new jobs specifically in customized manufacturing. Students will earn industry certifications as they work toward a technical diploma.

Machine tool technology: In the next three months, the college's campus in New Iberia will expand its machine tool shop. Electrical and mechanical upgrades will be made, and high-precision machining technologies required in advanced manufacturing will be incorporated. Again, this increased capacity will produce more graduates, ready to enter the workforce. This is a great example of how SLCC can adjust to meet the needs of industries that support our economies.

Oil and gas: SLCC recognizes the important role of oil and gas production in Acadiana's and Louisiana's economies. That's why the community college is expanding its machine tool shops, information technology labs and welding shops in Lafayette, New Iberia and Opelousas. With help from an advisory committee made up of leading oil and gas industries, we're rolling out programs that will produce more oil and gas operators, machinists and welders for the the oil and gas sector.

Painting and coating: With guidance from local company Aviation Exteriors, the college developed a customized continuing education program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration that teaches students hands-on basic painting and coating skills. Students will earn national certifications upon completion. In addition to the aviation industry, students will be qualified to work in the oil field, heavy equipment manufacturing and automotive and diesel manufacturing. Our graduates will help fuel a $3.2 million economic impact annually that includes 14 jobs in Iberia Parish. Welding: SLCC is poised to produce welders for new jobs specifically in the petrochemical and manufacturing sectors by expanding its welding shops in New Iberia and Opelousas. These industries offer high-demand, high-wage occupations and are vital to our economy. The expanded shops will include industry-standard equipment to train students to meet industry demand. Recognizing the immediate needs, the college has already hired more instructors to meet the increase in program capacity.

We've made great progress as Acadiana's leader of workforce training. But, we know there's more work to be done. SLCC is answering the call for more employees in high-demand, high-wage areas and will continue to retool our programs so that more graduates serve as the backbone of the energy, industrial and soon-to-be fiber backbone of our area.

Dr. Natalie Harder was named chancellor of South Louisiana Community College in 2012. Since that time, she and her team have overseen the merger of SLCC and Acadiana Technical College. Her faculty and staff serve more than 10,000 students throughout Acadiana.

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