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Stefan Smith's welding class under COVID-19 social distancing on Aug. 7, 2020 at Baton Rouge Community College Acadian Campus.

A growing coalition of higher education institutions has signed deals with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber to streamline employers' access to graduates in the region looking for their first career job.

The chamber now has agreements with Baton Rouge Community College, River Parishes Community College and Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University, known as FranU, for their graduates to have access to an online portal where graduating students can meet their first potential employer.

Similar deals were brokered with LSU and Southern University in recent weeks. While those universities may have the vast majority of the 50,000 college students in the market, the other schools are training individuals for specialized careers from petrochemical to health care.

Any employer on the Handshake network can post jobs, filter potential employees, schedule interviews and register for virtual recruiting sessions through the online website for free. The goal is to level the playing field for small and even mid-size employers, who may not have a full-time recruiter on staff to attract and retain the next-generation workforce. Fewer than 3% of employers, or roughly 500 companies, in the Baton Rouge metro area have created profiles on Handshake, according to an analysis by BRAC.

Beyond access to the online Handshake tool, which is connected to employers and universities across the nation, the colleges have agreed to track economic indicators about the student body to share with BRAC annually. The colleges are looking to increase the number of opportunities for local companies to visit with students on campus through guest lectures or field trips about the potential careers in the Baton Rouge metro area. Another aspect of the partnership is to increase experiential learning opportunities through more on-the-job training skills rather than just theories and lectures in the curriculum. Paid internships are expected to be baked into the curriculum at the colleges. Students will be encouraged to complete their Handshake student profile for potential employers to connect with on the online tool.

Both FranU and BRCC use an existing alternative system for their graduates to help find jobs, CollegeCentral, while River Parishes uses GradCast. BRAC expects to help the colleges transition with technology to using HandShake as well.

At FranU, the private college trains nurses, physician assistants respiratory therapists, physical therapists and radiology technicians, according to its website. The college has close ties to a hospital network, including its namesake Our Lady of the Lake but has graduates working across the state at various businesses. There were nearly 300 graduates at FranU in 2019. The most popular degree track for students is nursing.

The community colleges are already closely connected with businesses in workforce training opportunities, especially in the petrochemical and industrial sector in Louisiana. 

Baton Rouge Community College expects to host a virtual open house on Nov. 18 for its North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative, which offers free training courses in welding, electrical skills, millwright and pipefitting craft careers. The community college graduates, who often hold an associate degree when they leave, can transfer to a four-year degree program or enter the workforce with their degrees. Business and construction management appeared to be popular degree tracks for graduates in the spring 2019 class. There were more than 1,900 graduates in 2019, which includes associates degrees, technical diplomas and certificate holders. The most popular degree track was for transfer into a four-year college. For associate degree tracks, nursing was most popular. The most common certificate was for welding. 

At River Parishes Community College there's a similar trend. Among the more popular degree tracks for fall 2020 incoming students are an associate of applied science in process technology and industrial instrumentation technology. Last year, there were more than 1,300 graduates from the community college and about 580 individuals are on track to graduate with at least an associates in 2020. 

"Developing and retaining talent here post-graduation is a key component to growing into the vibrant talent magnet we know this region can and should become," said Adam Knapp, CEO of BRAC.

BRAC is hosting an online College 101 session for businesses at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 28. Business owners can learn how to better connect with local educational institutions for college graduates. An online video of the session for those who miss it is available.

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Email Kristen Mosbrucker at