Skilled training meets job opportunities

Keeping up with the local pro
October 23, 2012
Business climate earns list mention
October 23, 2012
Keeping up with the local pro
October 23, 2012
Business climate earns list mention
October 23, 2012

Some people say technical training is making a comeback. Others say it never left. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of jobs identified as being blue collar is expected to account for more than 50 percent of the total workforce by 2014.

The South Central Industrial Association has promoted the significance of skilled blue-collar careers, particularly in the oil and gas industry, but also areas including medical and culinary trades.

Terrebonne Career and Technical High School has trained young people on paths separate from those generally sought through traditional four-year colleges and prevented some from ending their educational efforts before graduating the secondary level.

The two entities will introduce high school sophomores to what is available for them on Oct. 30 and 31, with a career fair to be held at TCTHS, 3051 Patriot Drive in Houma.

Nicol Blanchard leads workforce development for Fletcher Technical Community College and heads the SCIA WorkIt! program.

“We are busing all sophomores from Ellender, Bourgeois, South Terrebonne and Terrebonne high schools [to] the career event,” Blanchard said.”The purpose is we want the sophomores, before they make schedules for the next school year, to see what the technical high school has to offer. It is a recruitment effort.”

SCIA has secured companies to be present to show students where skilled technical jobs exist and what kind of training is needed for those positions. “Even though they are not recruiting for positions right now, they are real businesses explaining to students what is required to get a job,” Blanchard said.

“About 30 businesses [including T. Baker Smith, Bollinger Shipyards and SEECA] are going to come-in and set up tables and videos to show students,” TCTHS instructor Charlie Positerry said. “We are going to create a rotation so every eight minutes the sophomores can go to different stations. At each station the businesses will talk about what they do and what programs [the students] need to take on this campus to go forward in that line of work.”

With nine instructors on the TCTHS campus, students will be able to meet those individuals that teach. “We are also going to be presenting ourselves in the program areas,” Positerry said.

The two-day career event will demonstrate opportunities in carpentry, welding, auto and diesel mechanics, auto refinishing, outdoor power equipment, electrical, mechanical, health occupations, certified nursing assistance, cosmetology, culinary arts and Pro Start. Organizers expect 1,200 students to participate.

Blanchard said students interested in specific trades, when given an opportunity to train for them, tend to perform better in the classroom. “It shows them that technical jobs are respectable jobs,” she said.

The SCIA WorkIt! program is a career campaign by which members of the industrial organization promote public school student (grades 6-12) awareness of technical trades available in the Tri-parish region. There are presently 40 schools participating in the program.

Funding for the career event was secured with an $187,000 grant through the Greater New Orleans Foundation. Blanchard said funds are being used for classroom and career events in 2012-13. The grant is being distributed through the Fletcher Technical Community College Foundation and helps pay for special events, plus the time invested by specific contacts of member schools. The SCIA WorkIt! program last offered a career event with TCTHS in 2008.

WorkIt! is also the hosting arm for open houses at both Fletcher and at South Central Louisiana Technical College.

Brandi Punch is a past TCTHS program participant who now works as a certified optician. She said in an email response that she had been interested in health care while a student at H.L. Bourgeois High School and benefited from the certified nursing assistance training she received at TCTHS.

“Knowing [health care] was going to be my career, I put forth more effort,” Punch said. Following her secondary level technical training, she went on to earn optical certification from the American Board of Opticianry through LSU.

“Most people don’t realize high school seniors are not always given an opportunity to learn how to get into a career,” Positerry said. “Years ago a person could go to an industry and learn a trade, but now you have to go to some sort of a career technical campus.”

Positerry said at one time technical high schools were considered a “dumping ground for troubled kids.” Today those institutions are gaining respect as training grounds with bright students preparing for real jobs.

“I feel in my heart that [TCTHS] opened the door of opportunity for me,” Punch said.

TCTHS had a full-time student population of more than 1,000 students in 2007. Today that number is approximately 400 pupils. Positerry and Terrebonne Parish School District administrators have said they suspect there are many students in the so-called regular high school population that would benefit from trade programs offered through this facility.

“There is an interest in growing this campus,” Positerry said. “We are interested in making students successful in life.”

Ellender High School junior Dillon Rodrigue calibrates and bends conduit at Terrebonne Career and Technical High School. As a participant in the vocational program, Dillon says hands-on applications have helped him understand mathematics and appreciate what he has to learn while preparing to enter the workforce. Sophomore students throughout the school district will have an opportunity to see a variety of career training options at the technical school during a career day with the South Central Industrial Association.