Inside Report: Job training programs offer different path

Not this spring, but next, close to 30 graduating seniors from the four public high schools in Ascension Parish will be heading out to their futures with certifications in hand as electricians or welders.

“They’re pretty much guaranteed a job when they get out” with the skills they’ll have, said Ronda Matthews, career and technology supervisor with the Ascension Parish School Board.

The students, all juniors this school year, were the first in the district to have the chance to attend their high school in the morning, then go in the afternoon to the Pelican Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors on Highland Road in Baton Rouge for free training in electricity and welding.

Word spread about the program and approximately 80 incoming juniors in Ascension Parish have applied to be part of the second such class in the fall.

Their class schedules will need to be evaluated, and not all of the students will be able to be part of next fall’s program, but the school district is encouraged by the level of interest.

Statistics show that high school programs that combine technical education with academics raise graduation rates, said Matt Campbell, director of workforce development with ABC’s Pelican Chapter.

“Now, all of a sudden, their classes mean more,” said Campbell of students who might be looking at options other than college.

Graduates of Ascension’s program with ABC will be starting on jobs as mid-level helpers, at least, and will be “leaps and bounds ahead of their peers” who might go to work immediately after school, then decide to go back for more training later, Campbell said.

The new job training program in Ascension Parish will dovetail nicely with a new statewide initiative called Jump Start, developed by the state Department of Education.

The program will provide high school courses and workplace experiences that will certify students for careers in 35 areas.

Many of those job areas are in construction and industry — industrial maintenance and heavy equipment operator are among them — but others are Internet web design and fashion design for costume in film.

Jump Start will be offered as an elective path for students planning to go to college and a required path for students planning to get a career diploma.

School districts in the state, which will team up in regions, can participate in Jump Start on a voluntary basis next school year; the program will be phased in over the next several years.

Ascension Parish has been joined by the school districts in St. James, St. John the Baptist, Iberville, West Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana and East Feliciana parishes, as well as the school districts of Central and Zachary, to form the Capital Area Region.

The region is one of those in the state that will be voluntarily offering Jump Start to its students come next fall.

School board staffs in the region will be working over the summer to develop two “career awareness” courses that will be offered as electives in the fall, to ninth-graders and upper classmen, as part of Jump Start.

In general, Matthews said, most parents want their children to go to college — and Jump Start is available to college-bound students.

But not all young people are interested in going to college, and families might want to sit down and talk with someone in the school system about the possibilities of Jump Start.

Ellyn Couvillion covers the Ascension Parish School System. She can be reached at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.