Perfecting the Process Technology program delivers high-demand talent to Louisiana industries

At SOWELA Technical Community College, enrollment in the process technology program has jumped from 400 to 700 students in just two years. That’s critical growth at a key time for Southwest Louisiana: More than $60 billion in expansion projects are slated for the region’s process industries, from chemical plants to refineries to liquefied natural gas terminals.

Neil Aspinwall is well-acquainted with the process technology program known as PTEC.

“We needed to produce more PTEC grads sooner because industry needs them,” says Aspinwall, the SOWELA chancellor. Of his college’s fast-track PTEC pathway, he adds, “This is a way to get qualified students through the program faster and into the workforce that needs them.”

The Lake Charles, Louisiana, school launched the one-of-a-kind, fast-track program to enable students with a college degree to earn a process technology degree in 16 weeks.

Fueling growth of the PTEC program is the multibillion-dollar slate of industrial projects in Southwest Louisiana. Fueling student interest are the PTEC jobs that pay $65,000 to $80,000 per year, plus benefits.

SOWELA’s compressed training model in process technology has been expanded to three additional Louisiana Community and Technical College System schools across the state in the past year.


Sowela Technical Community College in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has experienced significant enrollment growth.

PTEC innovations at SOWELA and other Louisiana technical colleges speak to the program’s goal: Responding to the evolving workforce needs of industrial employers by producing graduates with the right skills and knowledge. Indeed, an earlier PTEC program derived from the state’s community and technical college system in the 1990s, spurred by a looming wave of baby boomer retirements among plant operators.

Massive reinvestment in Louisiana’s petrochemical sector is now creating new demand for trained technicians who run, monitor and maintain Louisiana plants that transform raw materials into products for customers worldwide.

Read more about Louisiana’s process industries.

The PTEC program produces graduates ready to work in petrochemical plants, as well as the refining, power generation, pharmaceutical, and pulp and paper sectors. The program is defined by rigorous coursework, small classroom size and ample opportunity to connect what students learn on campus with the real-world knowledge employers need them to have.

With industry leaders serving on advisory boards at local campuses, collaboration shapes everything from the curriculum to specialized equipment in hands-on student laboratories.


The PTEC program produces work-ready graduates for the petrochemical industry, as well as the refining, power generation, pharmaceutical, and pulp and paper sectors.

Baton Rouge Community College’s new PTEC training facility in Central, Louisiana, for instance, includes a glycol unit giving students the opportunity for hands-on understanding of industry instrumentation.

Similarly, a 65,000-square-foot training center opening on SOWELA’s campus in late 2016 will feature equipment used by regional industries making major capital investments. Those investments include South African energy giant Sasol’s $11 billion ethane cracker complex under construction near Lake Charles.

The SOWELA advanced manufacturing center, supported by $20 million from the state, will provide training for workers at Sasol and other regional employers, with a focus on process technology and industry-specific training.

“Our program is directly reflective of what is used in industry,” says David LaFargue, the dean of SOWELA’s industrial technology school. “We work with our industry partners to make sure what we do is what they need.”

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