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Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, is overseeing the push to retrain 5,000 men and women who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

A program aimed at retraining 5,000 workers who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic should reach its target by April, a top official of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System said Thursday.

"The purpose of this was to reskill those who are currently unemployed by COVID into jobs that are hiring in the current economy and will be hiring in the long term," said Camille Conaway, senior vice president for policy and industry partnerships at LCTCS, which is administering the training.

The effort is called "Reboot Your Career."

It is designed to qualify men and women for jobs mostly in 12 weeks or less.

Conaway noted that 12 weeks of job training does not qualify people for jobs that pay $50,000 per year.

"But we can train for what can be an on-ramp credential," she said. "It gets you in the door."

Conaway said the path to new jobs represents "something that is working" in the midst of widespread hardships.

The effort is being funded with $10 million Louisiana got from the $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package called the CARES Act approved earlier this year by Congress.

Gov. John Bel Edwards designated the money from $50 million in discretionary dollars that was part of the legislation.

Most of the rest of the $50 million went to public schools for technology and other needs.

Conaway and Monty Sullivan, president of the LCTCS, outlined the program during separate hearings in the House and Senate education committees.

Conaway said 700 workers were retrained in the first three months of the program and the total will be 1,500 shortly.

"We will go through the $10 million by the time we are in session," she said. "The demand is huge."

The 2021 legislative session begins on April 12.

Said Sullivan, "We realize we are not touching everyone. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the state who need exactly what we are talking about here."

The training is being offered at all 12 of the state's community and technical colleges, Southern University in Shreveport and LSU-Eunice.

A total of $500,000 was earmarked for each school, with the aim of producing 300 workers with new credentials.

"We are reimbursing only after the credential is earned," Conaway said. "There is significant risks to the colleges involved."

Schools are reimbursed $1,500 for each student who earns a credential under the "Reboot" program. Colleges are to keep track of where students land jobs and their salaries.

Tuition is supposed to be as little as $10 or $20 per student, depending which program is pursued.

The Baton Rouge area lost 52,800 jobs in about one month at the start of the pandemic in March. New Orleans lost 100,000 workers in the service industry.

The retraining program began in September. It followed talks with regional economic development officials, economists and employers, including which jobs are in demand in different regions.

"We are working with employers both in terms of defining what is in demand but ensuring that our graduates are connected back to those employers," Conaway said.

Five industries emerged: health care, transportation and logistics, information technology, manufacturing and construction.

Jobs include nursing assistant, web developer, machinist and carpenter.

Conaway said Louisiana's timber industry is having a record-breaking year.

'Manufacturing and construction have continued to hire throughout COVID," said Conaway, a former top official of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

She said construction needs are heavy in southwest Louisiana after hurricanes Laura and Delta.

Conaway said learning to operate a forklift requires one day of training and pays $20 per hour.

Those classes are typically filled to capacity in the Lake Charles area.

A total of 50 credentials are offered.

Jobs that have been hard hit by the pandemic, such as the culinary industry, are excluded.

No minimum education levels are required.

The program won praise from members of the Senate Education Committee.

"This is incredibly well spent," said Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton. "How many layers of positive, life changing are going to happen from this."

Sen. Robert Mills, R-Minden, another member of the committee, made a similar point.

"We need to celebrate this a little bit," Mills said.

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