Inside Louisiana’s $500 Million Community And Technical College System Expansion

New Louisiana investments are transforming community and technical colleges in the state and placing Louisiana in a lead role to bridge the U.S. workforce gap in vital sectors, from advanced manufacturing to aerospace and energy.The approach recognizes the critical importance of a talented, abundant workforce in site-selection decisions made by business investors. To meet those expectations, Louisiana is producing highly skilled workers statewide, expanding training opportunities rapidly and creating world-class, specialized workforce development centers.

In Bossier City, La., state and local governments are building an advanced manufacturing training center to support Benteler Steel/Tube’s first hot-rolling, steeltube mill in the U.S. The $22 million workforce center, under construction at Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC), played a key role in convincing the European company to invest in Northwest Louisiana, where it will leverage logistics and business climate advantages to serve a robust North American energy sector.

Benteler considered 100 potential sites in 13 states before selecting a 330-acre site at The Port of Caddo Bossier in Shreveport for the $975 million steel plant. Construction on the first of two phases is under way.

“The value of the training facility is almost immeasurable,” said Matthias Jaeger, president and CEO of Benteler Steel/Tube. “We are making a long-term commitment, so we need to have certainty about the workforce of the future.”

At BPCC, the training center will prepare students for 675 new Benteler jobs in areas from skilled steel manufacturing to industrial maintenance. Working with college officials, Benteler will help shape laboratory design, select equipment and choose classroom curricula, but the design will be flexible enough to provide advanced training for any manufacturer for decades to come.

BPCC Chancellor Jim Henderson joined officials from LED FastStart® — Louisiana’s acclaimed workforce  program — at Benteler’s plant in Paderborn, Germany, to better understand the company’s manufacturing process and workflow.

“You can’t overstate the value of forming deep relationships with employers,” Henderson said. “They need to understand us, and we need to understand them so we can produce the workforce that will make them successful.”

The Benteler/BPCC partnership underscores Louisiana’s continuing investment in fl exible, state-of-the-art workforce solutions that align with industry demands. The Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) is an increasingly visible part of the state’s strategy for delivering custom solutions in rural and urban communities in every corner of Louisiana.

From 2007 to 2012, Louisiana invested more than $250 million in new and modernized training facilities at community and technical schools.

Louisiana continues to make meaningful investments in workforce facilities that meet industry standards and often exceed industry expectations. State lawmakers in 2013 authorized more than $250 million in additional  workforce-related projects at community and technical colleges across the state. The biggest component of the latest investment is Facilities with a Purpose — a far-reaching plan to build, expand and modernize 25 workforce facilities on 14 LCTCS campuses across the state.

All told, the state will add more than 876,000 square feet in new or improved training facilities at community and technical colleges across the state over the next three to five years.

Once complete, the projects will expand by 63 percent the number of students LCTCS can prepare for jobs in aviation maintenance, welding, automotive technology, construction, advanced manufacturing, instrumentation technology, process technology, information technology and other high-demand fields.

Yet the Facilities with a Purpose plan is designed to do more than create training centers at community and technical college campuses. The plan strengthens the bond between regional labor needs and LCTCS sites by requiring a 12 percent local match for project costs.

“It brings together the community, businesses and college leaders to talk about what local labor needs are and how best to address them,” said Joe May, LCTCS president. “We want those groups to come together and have those conversations, whether the need for training is in industrial construction or allied health or culinary arts.”

Workforce projects at Louisiana’s community and technical colleges reflect trends in Louisiana’s economy, such as rising job demand for regional healthcare providers and natural gas producers drilling in the Haynesville Shale. But the workforce projects are also in step with macroeconomic changes in the global workplace where needs are exploding for “middle skills” workers possessing more education than high school but less preparation than a four-year academic degree.

The State of Human-Capital 2012, by McKinsey & Company Inc. and The Conference Board, shows that the global talent shortage is widespread, with particular concern for the limited availability of technical workers or STEM job candidates. In Louisiana, training for those jobs occurs chiefly at community and technical college campuses.

Students in Louisiana are responding to the state’s investment in world-class training. Enrollment at Louisiana’s community colleges and technical schools outpaces every other state, surging 72 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to U.S. Department of Education figures. The state’s aim is to further expand enrollment to more than 93,000 students over the next five years.

Market demand is shaping training partnerships across the state. In Lake Charles, La., Sasol Ltd. of South Africa is planning the first U.S. natural gas-to-liquids, commercial-scale facility, along with an ethane cracker, for an investment of $16 billion to $21 billion that will create more than 1,250 new direct jobs.

The state will build a $20 million training center at nearby SOWELA Technical Community College to train welders, process technologists and other skilled workers for projects in Southwest Louisiana, including the Sasol complex, which represents the largest manufacturing investment in state history. The training center’s design involves a close collaboration between Sasol and local officials, along with LED FastStart, Louisiana’s best-in-the-nation state workforce training program.

“What’s being done in Louisiana is exciting,” said Mike Kane, Sasol operations manager for the ethane-cracker project. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime partnership for Sasol to be able to influence training at a public education institution in this way.”

Collaboration shapes training centers and programs across a spate of industries. BPCC created a four-week, industrial readiness certificate for custom-packaging company Ronpak, which opened a $16.8 million headquarters and manufacturing facility in Shreveport in mid-2013.

Ronpak helped craft the certificate program to identify students with an aptitude for mechanical work. The company offered jobs to 70 percent of the first class of graduates at BPCC. Elizabeth Henson, the firm’s human resources specialist, said Ronpak plans to continue participation in the program as it ramps up employment from 113 to 275 over the next five years.

Collaboration is guiding other workforce efforts. In St. Tammany Parish, the local government donated 12.6 acres for a building that will house Northshore Technical Community College’s new STEM programming. In concert with local economic developers, Northshore evaluated future workforce demand and determined a need for more job training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Collaboration between government and education leaders represents a vital part of the state’s workforce strategy. At Louisiana Delta Community College, LED FastStart helped the school acquire a 10-station, integrated assembly system for training in automotive and other complex manufacturing processes. The expansion of the school’s advanced technology center reflected local training needs, including a “clean room” to accommodate nanotechnology training for the region’s pharmaceutical sector.

Indeed, several LCTCS campuses will locate public workforce offices inside the same building where training takes place. The goal is creating turnkey sites where students can find out about training opportunities in their communities and then pursue them with maximum ease.

“We’ve got the companies, LED FastStart, state and local government and our community and technical colleges at the table together,” said Neil Aspinwall, chancellor of SOWELA Technical Community College, where fall 2013 enrollment is up 21 percent over the past year.

“That is what makes what we’re doing so powerful,” Aspinwall said.

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