LAFAYETTE — South Louisiana Community College has asked the St. Landry Parish community to help chip in $2 million to train more workers in job fields that are in high demand at its Opelousas campus.
The $2 million is directed toward improvements and the expansion of the Opelousas T.H. Harris’ campus extension site where it plans to expand its programs in welding, diesel mechanics and nondestructive testing.
“The state is calling for over 80,000 jobs. Opelousas can be a prime player in that but we need to have up-to-date facilities and more modern and larger facilities to train students,” said Willie Smith, SLCC vice chancellor for economic and workforce development.
College officials met earlier this week with community and business leaders in St. Landry Parish to tour the Opelousas campus and pitch their ideas for expanding the three programs with community support.
Smith said a capital campaign for the Opelousas campus will begin soon.
“We don’t have the resources to expand those programs to capacity,” Smith said. “We’re going to need some financial support and reaching out to the community because they’re invested in this, as well. It’s for the community and we need their support to meet those industry needs.”
SLCC held town hall meetings with its campus communities last year to learn what types of training expansion and other workforce needs existed, but also made an appeal of its own for financial support to meet those needs.
Smith said the college plans to make similar appeals again in the other communities where it has campuses in Lafayette and its neighboring parishes of Acadia, Evangeline, St. Landry, Vermilion, St. Martin and Iberia.
He said SLCC needs community support to improve its regional campuses.
“We can’t do all this ourselves,” Smith said.
The regional campuses were technical training sites of Acadiana Technical College until 2012 when the campuses merged with SLCC. Earlier this year, the college’s training programs were overhauled and streamlined to produce trained workers more quickly. The former technical sites also now offer students general education classes — expanding options for students to begin academic degree work closer to home and to transfer to the SLCC Lafayette campus or the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to complete their degree studies.
Smith said officials plan to expand the three targeted programs at the T.H. Harris campus so they can enroll more students.
He said more welding booth space is needed to expand the welding program to train 40 students at a time, rather than 20. That expansion requires more space, but also equipment and an updated ventilation system, he said.
More space and updated equipment are also needed for the diesel technology program, which also now enrolls only 20 students at a time, Smith said.
The nondestructive testing program is larger, with 50 students, but that’s not enough to meet the demand for trained workers in that field, he said. The program trains people to test the vulnerabilities of equipment or other materials without damaging them.
The college revamped the program last year, shortening the training time from 16 months to 12 months to help meet the demand for trained workers who can find jobs in various industries from the oil field to chemical plants.
Smith said the program could easily expand to enroll 75, if the campus had the money for it.