For years, local business and industry leaders have complained they can’t find enough skilled workers to fill positions in their companies and plants. At the same time, many young people complain they can’t find a good-paying job.
The East Baton Rouge Career and Technical Education Center, which opens next fall on the campus of the Ardendale urban village in Melrose East, seeks to address both problems by offering high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn a diploma from their regular high school while also receiving workforce training and industry certification in high-demand fields that need skilled workers.
The dual-enrollment facility is a proverbial win-win for the community and promises to put a dent in one of the area’s most pressing challenges. But before it can open next August, as planned, a lot has to happen.
For one, the school’s newly appointed administration needs to recruit dozens of instructors, which could be difficult given the differential between a private sector paycheck and a public school teacher’s salary.
CTEC administrators also have to figure out how to get their incoming students prepared to take courses like computer programming and networking, mechanical instrumentation and commercial plumbing, to name a few. That will require working with the East Baton Rouge Parish School System to make sure existing high schools offer the necessary prerequisites for kids that will attend CTEC, and also setting up temporary boot camps until the district’s schools are up to speed.
“It’s all still a work in progress,” says Summer Dann, a mechanical engineer by training, who was named executive director of CTEC earlier this fall. “There are a lot of logistics to coordinate but we’re really excited about it.”
“In three generations, no one has ever communicated like this and connected the dots. This is a phenomenal program and EBR has been late to the dance. We are happy they have finally been able to make it happen.”
—STEPHEN TOUPS, executive vice president, Turner Industries
The $17 million facility, under construction next to the McKay Automotive Training Center at Ardendale, has been in the works for more than a decade and is the product of a collaborative effort between multiple agencies and organizations led by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. BRAF first conceived building Ardendale in the middle of one of Baton Rouge’s most troubled areas in the mid-2000s, with the idea of using the urban village model as a catalyst to spur economic development that would spread organically. The automotive training center and CTEC are key anchors in the model.
“This is the best of a public-private partnership, where the city, the school board, the RDA, BRAF, BRAC and BRCC for over 10 years have worked on a dream to change young people’s lives,” BRAF Executive Vice President John Spain says.
CTEC is modeled after a program in Newnan, Georgia, a small city outside of Atlanta that realized back in the early 2000s it was losing its young people after high school, even while good jobs in the community remain unfilled.
“So they did something that sounds so simple but isn’t—they trained young people for jobs that exist,” Spain says.
CTEC plans to do the same thing. The school will focus on providing job training in four high-demand areas: computer science, skilled crafts, medical and manufacturing. Students enrolled in the school—juniors and seniors—will attend class at their regular high school for half the day, then take classes at CTEC for the other half.
“We will try to map business needs and community needs to student needs,” Dann says.
CTEC will also offer “professionalism” classes that help students learn how to find and apply for internships and jobs.
The school plans to enroll 150 students next fall. Those students will be admitted based on an application and interview process. Dann is currently making the rounds at local high schools, meeting with principals to let them know what CTEC has to offer and to enlist their help in encouraging students who would be a good fit for the school to apply.
Eventually, CTEC will be able to accommodate 300 students on its existing campus, and it has available space on its site to expand.
Before any of that can happen, however, CTEC has to recruit faculty, which Dann says will be a challenge. Though the local business community has been very generous with donating tools and equipment that can be used in CTEC training, Dann wonders how willing experienced professionals and tradesmen will be to give up good-paying positions to teach school.
“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we have a workforce shortage,” she says. “So the people who are working are well paid and don’t want to give up a good job.”
Dann is hoping to recruit retired workers or those in mid-career who are maybe looking to do something different with their lives.
Another challenge she is working through is figuring out how to get incoming students up to speed so they are ready to take classes that will enable them to be certified as plumbers, electricians, EMTs and certified nursing assistants.
Some EBR high schools already offer the kind of prerequisites CTEC students will need to take. Dann is working with the system to bring those kinds of classes—jobsite safety courses, for instance—to other schools. In the meantime, she plans to create a boot camp or extended orientation program that incoming students can take over the summer before the start of the new school year.
Local industry executives who have long complained about the challenges of hiring skilled workers say CTEC has the potential to transform the local workforce and the economy.
“In three generations, no one has ever communicated like this and connected the dots,” Turner Industries Executive Vice President Stephen Toups says. “This is a phenomenal program and EBR has been late to the dance. We are happy they have finally been able to make it happen.”