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Editorial: Need for workers presents opportunity

Last Modified: Saturday, July 13, 2013 8:14 PM

The need for welders, pipefitters, electricians and other skilled laborers in Southwest Louisiana is showing a marked increase. According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, this area will need 3,269 extra workers this year, 7,936 additional workers in 2014, 11,289 in 2015 and 5,800 in 2016. That’s 28,294 additional workers, which is more workers than New Orleans or Baton Rouge will require for the same time period, according to the commission.

The state Legislature is aware of this great need being brought about in part by $60 billion worth of new plant construction and plant expansions around Louisiana and especially here in our corner of the state.

So while funds for higher education in the state are repeatedly slashed, and against warnings from State Treasurer John Kennedy over increasing debt, legislators have passed a bill that is allowing the state’s community and technical colleges to borrow more than $250 million to build new facilities to meet the need for additional workers.

With the way paved for technical school construction funding, there is a certain amount of pressure for schools in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System to deliver the goods — in this case skilled laborers — who are ready to work.

Many such schools are working at getting laborers job-ready as quickly as possible. The LCTCS plans to offer more and more condensed training programs that are typically non-credit courses that students pay for out-of-pocket without the benefit of financial aid.

Jimmy Sawtelle, senior vice president for workforce solutions with LCTCS, said that industry officials are letting them know that in many cases, it’s better to have workers with a baseline level of skill who can be trained on the job rather than having to wait to hire workers whose skills are fully developed.

LCTCS President Joe May has called this unexpected boom in the state’s industrial economy a “positive disruption.” It’s a problem, but a good problem to have, especially as we watch our own Sowela Technical Community College become an even more vital part of our local economy.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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