By Lori Lyons
RESERVE — As graduation season approaches, some high school seniors are dreaming of going off to college. Others have no idea what’s next.
They all are hoping for a good job with a good salary and benefits.
Most don’t realize they could be just two years away from a career earning an annual salary of $60,000 or more, right in their own back yard.
That’s the message South Central Louisiana Technical College — soon to be River Parishes Community College — is working to get out: there are local career opportunities that do not require a four-year college degree, but only some sort of post-high school training available through the community and technical college system.
They call them “new collar careers.”
“It’s a myriad of opportunities,” said Chassity McComack, executive director of the River Region Chamber of Commerce. “We also look to reduce the stigma of those careers — and they are careers. They’re not just jobs. They are good careers that will enable you to be financially secure, buy a house and live a good life.”
For more than three decades, the technical college has trained thousands to enter the workforce as welders, electricians, medical assistants, nurses and, especially, process technicians, which are in high demand at the many local chemical plants.
Now the college wants to reach into the high schools to begin preparing future students and workers even earlier.
“We want to maximize our dual enrollment programs and minimize the amount of remedial work that needs to be done when they leave high school and come into the community college system,” said Mike Palamone, chairman of a new workforce development committee, which is working with the local schools, governments and industries on a plan to better prepare those looking to enter the workforce.”
The Technical College, which will undergo the name change on July 1 as part of a revamping of the system, is still fighting a well-entrenched stigma about its education and training programs.
“They used to call them blue collar careers,” Palamone said. “Now we’re calling them new collar careers. These are good paying jobs with good benefits that are available right here, locally.”
The problem has been getting high school students ready to enter the workforce or into the training programs they need.
Last week the parish presidents, public school superintendents and an assortment of business leaders from St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and St. James parishes came together to sign an agreement to increase workforce development in the area.
The group agreed to collaborate on a plan that would bring the education systems, parish governments and local businesses and industries together, along with the Chamber and the community college system to help prepare students to enter the workforce more prepared.
Under the plan, businesses will be able to spell out their workforce needs and communicate them to the high schools to better prepare them to go to work.
The group also has partnered with non-profit Louisiana Calling, which is designed to bring job seekers and local industries together through the web portal louisianacalling.org.
There, job seekers can find job opportunities as well as opportunities to obtain whatever training might be needed for those jobs.
“Businesses are going to be able to post jobs there and people are going to be able to search for jobs there,” McComack explained. “Those jobs (posted) are going to connect them to training opportunities they may need. There will be an online process that will tell you the training you need and automatically link you to the nearest facility you’ll be able to get that training.”
The plan has been in the works since and will help the local industries, who need trained workers.
“We are looking for our community to be workforce ready, trained and certified as we welcome billions of dollars in workforce expansions and new business,” said Chamber Chairwoman Annette Wray.
“We no longer need to train our children to be college bound only. There is still an opportunity for our students who are on a career path, and we have a training resource right here in our backyard in the Technical College.”