SLCC: Needs financial help to meet workforce needs

South Louisiana Community College wants to work with communities to respond to workforce needs, but financial help is needed from industry to train workers, SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder said Tuesday to a group gathered at a town hall meeting at its New Iberia campus.

Over the next several weeks, the college has scheduled town hall meetings at its seven campuses across Acadiana to gather information on workforce training and other needs within the communities it serves.

Harder told a group of about 20 the college can add to its existing programs and meet demands for new training, but not without financial assistance from industry.

“We can’t do it without private sector help anymore,” Harder said.

The chancellor said the college has been in talks with companies in Iberia Parish to “see what we can do differently to grow companies.”

“Companies need to know that there’s going to be a workforce for them today, tomorrow and into the future,” Harder said.

The college recently announced a new program where students can earn an associate’s degree in registered nursing. The program will start in the fall at the Lafayette campus. One community member questioned the location of the program.

Harder explained the college received seed money from the major hospitals in Lafayette.

“It would not be a huge deal to grow that program to other parishes, but we need help to do that. … We need private sector help,” Harder said.

Harder said it would cost about $60,000 per faculty member annually to operate the program.

Starting in the spring, the program already has a waiting list of 300 students, she said.

Some new program requests for New Iberia pitched by community members at the meeting included medical technologists or lab technologists.

Special program suggestions will be researched using state workforce data and feedback from industry about current needs, Harder said after the meeting.

About 640 Iberia Parish students are enrolled at SLCC, she said.

Last year, about 275 Iberia Parish high school students also were enrolled in SLCC classes and earned college credit while still in high school.

Harder said she’d like to see that option expanded to more students with the creation of a program similar to one in Lafayette called the Early College Academy, which allows students to graduate high school with a diploma and an associate’s degree.

Harder encouraged those at the meeting to push for an Early College Academy in Iberia Parish.

“In your dialogue with your community leaders, ask yourself, why can’t we do that here?” Harder said.

The training the community colleges provide is critical to communities, said Mike Morris, director of Acadiana Works Inc., a private nonprofit workforce investment group.

While the unemployment rate in Iberia Parish is low, welders, machinists and health care workers are in demand, Morris said.

“We can’t make enough welders and fitters,” he said.

The principal of the Iberia Parish Career Center, Chris Broussard, said the college’s tuition increase likely prevented some students from taking advantage of the training offered.

He suggested the college consider career counseling or more high school outreach to expose students to career training options.

Harder said college officials would be in touch about the financial and career counseling issues.

Later, she said the college is working on more outreach initiatives such as summer camps and more continuing education courses in the communities it serves.

The meetings began last week in Ville Platte and continue through October.

SLCC town hall meetings inlcude:

Tuesday: Gulf Area campus, 1301 Clover St., Abbeville.

Sept. 17: La Maison Duchamp, 110 S. Main St., St. Martinville.

Oct. 1: Acadian campus, 1933 W. Hutchinson Drive, Crowley.

Oct. 24: T.H. Harris campus, 332 E. South St., Opelousas.

For information, call SLCC’s Business and Industry office at (337) 521-9032.