The Role of Community Colleges in the Workforce Development

While Baton Rouge and surrounding cities are known for its culture, great food and entertainment, Louisiana is paving a way for the state to recognize its significant success with community college education. According to National Skills Coalition, nearly “80 percent of jobs require candidates to have some form of education or training beyond the high school level.”

Various reasons hinder young adults from entering a four-year university to obtain their bachelor’s degree; however, in the past, many saw community colleges as second rate, and as times are changing, education progresses and as the demand increases for “middle-skill jobs,” Louisiana takes the lead in encouraging community college engagement and attendance.

Dr. Girard Melancon, Executive Director for Continuing Education, Economic Development and Workforce Solutions at Baton Rouge Community College (BRCC) and President of National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE), encourages community college involvement, as it is proving to be the lead generator in access to fast-growing careers. The NCWE, an affiliate council of the AACC, provides a national forum for administrators and faculty in workforce education and basic skills, as well as representatives of business, labor, military and government, to affect and direct the future role of two-year and other post-secondary institutions in workforce education and economic development. By placing a strong emphasis on student success in exemplary programs, NCWE serves as the national leader by providing resources and expertise to community colleges to enhance their efforts in preparing the current and future workforce in a global economy.

As both the economy and workforce development evolves and progresses, it is essential that post-secondary education does the same. Community colleges in Louisiana are career driven and preparing their students to excel in their future careers. Businesses across the state are partnering with community colleges to fill the needs of the employee workforce. Hand-in-hand, businesses and community colleges are providing courses that are detailed and refined to better place students in positions that they fit in. These partnerships are not only strengthening the businesses that are better off because of them, but also igniting a fire in the hearts of students who are enrolling in community colleges to have a better chance in their own career opportunities. Our state and nation’s economy will continuously improve based on these partnerships between businesses and two-year colleges.  In addition, with a lack of resources and connections, these partnerships will help exponentially to allow connections in an easier, more reliable way for small business owners.

According to Louisiana Economic Development (LED), “Louisiana investments in community and technical schools are ensuring the production of highly skilled workers statewide. From 2007 to 2012, the state invested more than $250 million in new and modernized training facilities and in 2013 authorized an additional $250 million in workforce-related projects. Enrollment at these institutions is also up, surging 72 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education.” BRCC for example, uses their programs to fuel the local economy by providing programs that fit the mold of industrial jobs in the area.

Mr. Melancon’s department works closely with a variety of local companies to align training programs with workforce needs. ExxonMobil is preparing to spend some $20 billion in expansion projects along the Gulf Coast over the next decade. The petrochemical giant could easily tap in to electrician, welders and pipefitter graduates from the North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative. Local community colleges are using their programs to train, prepare and educate students on specific skills needed for many business operations in the Baton Rouge metro area.

Girard Melancon says industry partnerships and buy-in from the business community are critical components to the program’s continuation. “It’s the growth of a workforce program—not a social program—where companies are willing to reward those who do the work.” he said. For example, an unskilled worker could go from making minimum wage at a temporary job to starting a full-time job at $11 to $12 an hour—and earn upwards of $17 an hour after training.

Community Colleges are leading our workforce with the training required to fill the needs of the modern workforce. Businesses statewide should take notice of the wide variety of programs offered. These community colleges are becoming a rich resource of talented, skilled employees. It’s worthwhile to pay attention to the preparation and education community colleges provide to businesses statewide.