Baton Rouge Community College’s Jackson campus marked a recent milestone when it graduated six students from its first class of machinists Dec. 17.

Five men and one woman were fêted at a ceremony celebrating the completion of a four-month industry course geared toward fulfilling a growing need for skilled workers in East and West Feliciana parishes.

“Businesses are hungry for trained and skilled workers,” said BRCC’s Johnny Arceneaux, director of workforce solutions and workforce development in East and West Feliciana.

The three-day-a-week program gained attention from area businesses, industry and organizations in both parishes.

“We don’t have a large trained workforce in this area, so we’re glad to help out,” said Jon Craft, of Anvil Attachments in Slaughter. “There is a real shortage of machinists and welders in this area, but we need other businesses and industries to join us in getting local people trained and hired to help jump-start our local economy.”

Anvil Attachments hired two of the students part time and paid a day’s wages while they were still enrolled in the class. Graduate Tanya Kennedy, of Slaughter, a nurse of nearly 20 years, quit the medical field to try her hand at something new.

“She aced the math test, so we’re putting her on the computerized machinery,” Craft said of his new employee.

Cajun Valve hired graduate Warren Gaiennie III, of Clinton.

“I wish I had five more like him,” Ron Hasselback, of Cajun Valve, said. “He is well-educated, well-prepared and disciplined. If they come to us with a good heart and hunger for knowledge, we can teach them the rest.”

Matt Blackwell, of Slidell, took the class so he could pursue his passion for building motorcycles.

Within 48 days, Blackwell was building handlebars and foot pegs from scrap and spare metal parts for his bike, which he showed off at graduation.

Arceneaux is excited about the possibilities the graduates bring to the region and said outside resources have helped “get things done.”

Several community partners played a part in the machinists program coming to fruition. After visiting several sites looking for machinery to fill the BRCC workshop, Arceneaux and Craft discovered old lathes in Hammond that had been earmarked as surplus.

“There’s life in these machines,” Craft said.

Craft helped identify the class curriculum, designed the workshop layout, donated tools and sent Anvil employees to transport, set up and refurbish some of the equipment students used during course instruction.

Retired Judge Hal Ware, also a skilled machinist, helped with the refurbishing of several of the older lathes.

The East Feliciana Chamber of Commerce paid for the paint in the workshop, and East Feliciana Sheriff Talmadge Bunch sent an inmate work crew to do the painting.

BRCC’s Vice Chancellor Kay McDaniel said Craft and Anvil have been on board since day one.

“We’re appreciative of the great partnership with Anvil Attachments and others in the community,” McDaniel said. “We’re doing things in a new way in 2015.”

Arceneaux said the six graduates all have “fire in their bellies for knowledge.” Master welder Frank Reynolds was recruited from Orion Instruments to be the instructor

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for many people in the area, but with this program, we’ve got a chance to bring industry into our parish and into our backyard,” Reynolds said.

According to Arceneaux, there is a shortage of skilled machinists, welders, fitters and diesel mechanics.

For those who don’t attend four-year colleges, day and night programs for credit and noncredit classes are available at BRCC and offer the opportunity to earn high-wage jobs, Arceneaux said.

“These six new graduates have learned a skill set, the basics, safety training and are blueprint ready,” Arceneaux said. “We want to integrate the needs of area businesses with the desire of local people to earn a good living. Businesses just have to let us know what they need, and we’ll get the students trained to fit their needs. These are the things we’re trying to do.”

Contact the BRCC Jackson campus at (225) 634-2636 to learn more or email Arceneaux at arceneauxj@mybrcc.edu.