With billions in planned investments the petrochemical sector and employment growth of 4.7 percent annually expected through 2019, the demand for skilled workers is at an all-time high in Southwest Louisiana.
A major advantage for the five-parish region is the ability of Southwest Louisiana Technical Community College (SOWELA) to quickly respond to workforce needs and keep the pipeline of talent flowing to high-growth industries.
Gearing Up for Business
The college offers associate degrees, technical diplomas and certificates in 23 different programs that span the region’s industries, including petrochemical, automotive, aviation and health care. In addition, SOWELA offers non-credit, customized workforce training.
In October 2016, SOWELA opened the 67,000-square-foot Regional Training Center. The $20 million facility will provide workforce training for chemical producer Sasol, which is expanding, and other industries in the region.
The center includes computer labs, classrooms and industrial lab sites that will give students hands-on instruction in fields such as industrial instrumentation technology and chemical laboratory technology.
SOWELA also recently broke ground on a 50,000-square-foot, $10 million facility at its Morgan Smith campus in Jennings.
“This new facility in Jennings will allow us to not only be able to partner with more industries, but it allows us to train more people. It’s part of the big growth that’s happening in this part of the region,” says William Mayo, executive director of workforce development at SOWELA.” We know what we’re expecting, and through partnerships with SOWELA and the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, the Business and Career Solutions Center and other partners and friends, we’ve worked to get that message out.”
Mayo says the college works closely with the region’s industry leaders to structure curriculum and training in areas, such as welding and rod busting, to meet heightened demand as quickly and effectively as possible.
“Take our rod busters program, for instance,” Mayo says of the training program for working with rebar. “That program is something that was brought to us by CB&I (a provider of infrastructure services for the energy industry). They said, ‘We need people able to do rod busting, and we can take as many as you can train.’ So we worked to develop a program that not only CB&I needs but other companies need as well. We try to look at what we’re offering and where it needs to be, and how fast we need to get it done to meet the needs of the workforce.”
Ready for Work
Mayo says the college has also expanded both its for-credit and non-credit welding programs to help beef up the workforce of major employers, such as Cheniere, Bechtel and the industrial gas company Praxair. Through its Skills Pipeline workforce development program established in 2014, Praxair has sponsored more than 50 welding scholarships at SOWELA.
“In Southwestern Louisiana, across the I-10 corridor, there’s a big need for welders and other crafts,” says Tamara Brown, director of sustainable development and community engagement for Praxair. “We looked at both our experience as a player in the industry and our own needs for welding talent, and it really became important to offer a comprehensive solution.
After the first year, the company noted positive results from training through SOWELA and many of those students are now working in industry in the region.
“We have employed students through the area,” Brown says. “It was just a great launch of the program for us in that first year and really great for those students’ lives.”
Praxair’s Skills Pipeline program also offers support for instructors, professional development opportunities and grants for continuing education.
“We look two months out after graduation to see how many of the students are employed, and we estimate what their potential increase in earnings over their lifetime might be,” Brown says. “We estimate about a $12 million increase in earnings potential over their lifetime based on just those students who are employed two months after graduation. Our goal is to help to sustain these new welders and existing welders throughout their careers.”