NEW IBERIA — Education and business officials Thursday called on Louisiana’s next governor and Legislature to adequately fund career training in the coming years, from college engineers to oilfield welders to aviation mechanics and electricians.
“We need to make sure the people who live here are able to maximize their capabilities,” said Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of One Acadiana, the nine-parish regional economic development agency based in Lafayette.
One Acadiana held a news conference to highlight the third of its “Priorities for Acadiana,” which focuses on workforce development. The event took place at South Louisiana Community College’s campus at Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia, symbolically in the welding shop where students learn a blue-collar trade that can provide a living wage.
SLCC Chancellor Natalie Harder urged state legislative leaders to next year provide $14 million for the brick-and-mortar costs of building the “International School for Aviation Excellence,” a planned aviation complex that would be added to the SLCC campus at the New Iberia airport.
The aviation complex, which is being modeled on an aviation program in Fort Worth, Texas, would need additional funds to create and staff degree programs for aircraft mechanics, avionics, composites, painting and coating, and nondestructive testing. Harder said the school will need further funding for a degree program that would teach students to fly helicopters and fixed-wing planes.
Erroll Babineaux, vice president of Acadian Companies’ Air Service Division, said three-quarters of aviation workers in Louisiana are recruited from outside the state. He said Acadian Companies’ fleet of aircraft, which is small compared with personnel carriers Bristow, ERA and PHI, employs 40 pilots and 12 mechanics.
SLCC’s current aviation program, which is limited to airframe and power plant studies and is taught on the grounds of Lafayette Regional Airport, “offers a compelling base to expand upon,” Babineaux said.
Nearly 100 percent of SLCC’s aviation students in the current program are hired when they graduate. Babineaux and Harder said the high job-placement rate would continue in SLCC’s planned aviation complex.
University officials Thursday also called for increased funding and for the ability to set college tuition rates without the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature.
Mark Zappi, dean of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette College of Engineering, said the college badly needs $30 million to $35 million to construct a new engineering building on the campus.
The number of UL-Lafayette engineering students has climbed almost 200 percent since 2005, when 1,100 were enrolled, Zappi said. This year, Zappi said, some 3,000 students are pursuing the various engineering degrees offered by UL-Lafayette, and they’re taking classes in facilities designed for just 2,000.
UL-Lafayette President Joseph Savoie said budget cuts to Louisiana universities have forced administrators to cut deeply and to seek other revenue. But the avenues to cost savings and nonstate money often are blocked by archaic rules that prevent streamlined procedures and by a Legislature that insists on being the final authority on tuition rates.
“Without greater ability to control our revenue and costs, Louisiana’s higher education institutions will remain politically and bureaucratically hamstrung in providing a skilled workforce,” Savoie said.
One Acadiana, an organization that was expanded from the former Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, will highlight the fourth of its “Priorities for Acadiana” on Aug. 27 at the Billeaud Companies office in Broussard. The session will focus on completing Interstate 49 South.
One Acadiana is an economic development agency that represents nine south Louisiana parishes: Jefferson Davis, Acadia, Evangeline, St. Landry, Vermilion, Lafayette, Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary.