LACOMBE, La. – Northshore Technical Community College graduated 12 heavy equipment operators – 11 men and one woman -- from its inaugural PRO Louisiana workforce development program. The course is being lauded by the region’s industry leaders, many of whom had a voice in the program’s design and provided staff to help teach classes.
The 12-week hands-on course is designed to bolster the state’s in-demand “professional resilience occupations” – PRO Louisiana -- vital to flood mitigation efforts and disaster recovery. Gov John Bel Edwards awarded more than $440 million earlier this year to flood risk reduction projects. In addition, to ensure skilled manpower is available statewide, a partnership between the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and Louisiana Economic Development is training heavy equipment operators.
Funds for the PRO Louisiana jobs program originate with the state’s Watershed Initiative. In all, six LCTCS colleges were awarded grant dollars. Monies provided to NTCC cover all program expenses: tuition, equipment, and instructor salaries for the three-month course. In exchange for investing their time, enrollees walked away with certification in the skilled field at no financial cost to them. “If you give me 12 weeks, I will give you a career,” Chris Montgomery, NTCC assistant director of STEM Outreach, told the enrollees before the start of the course in May. By graduation, more than 60 percent of the class had accepted positions with local companies, earning, on average, $20-plus per hour. Two intend to work independently, another – the group’s lone woman – is awaiting word from an employer, and another, a National Guardsman, has enrolled at NTCC to complete his degree. “Heavy equipment operation is a vital industry,” Montgomery said. “The earning potential is there. Our people are graduating and are hiring into jobs that enable them to provide for their families and have a good life. They have the training and certifications they need to go to work today,” he said.
The grant awarded to NTCC specifies that students pass a preliminary assessment and be under-employed or in a lower income range, Bridget LaBorde, NTCC’s director of Workforce Training and Development. It also stipulates that those students are hired soon after in heavy equipment operator jobs. NTCC received its award letter from the Louisiana Office of Community Development in December and immediately began recruiting. Ironically, the program launched on April Fool’s Day, and classes started a month later. “There’s no way we could have made all this happen without the support and hands-on help from our local business and industry partners,” LaBorde said. “They fully embraced the concept from the outset.” Mike Williams, vice president of human resources with Lemoine, told graduates at the Sept. 2 ceremony, “We believe in you, and we believe in this program.” Williams dubbed the heavy equipment operator program a “blueprint for success” for schools across the state because of the hands-on opportunities and real-time lessons taught by experts in the field. Citing the soaring demand since the start of the pandemic for skilled trade workers, Williams said Lemoine’s participation in the program was an investment in the company’s future.
As older workers retire, the demand for knowledgeable, disciplined workers grows. “Training is going to be the difference when it comes to hiring in this field,” he said, assuring the graduates that the NTCC program is set apart by the quality of the training. Barriere Construction, Weeks Marine, Lemoine, Command Construction, United Rentals, SiTech, the cities of Covington and Slidell, and several others joined the effort, expanding learning beyond the National Center for Construction and Education’s standard curriculum. For example, LaBorde said companies introduced the use of drones and GPS, trenching techniques, and the like. “They’ve elevated everything we try to do to a whole other level.”
NTCC benefitted too from the service projects the heavy equipment operators in training performed – leveling and laying sod in a flood-prone spot on the Lacombe campus, for instance. Drew DuFrechou is among heavy equipment operator graduates continuing to boost his earning potential, enrolling in the course to earn his commercial driver’s license. “These guys are just upping their value,” LaBorde said. “They will not only be able to drive the heavy equipment, but they will be able to deliver it to the job site and perform the day’s work.”
The CDL program is also funded by a grant. As a result, students only pay for their health/drug screen and certification. DuFrechou called the opportunity “a no-brainer.” A week out of Mandeville High School, he attended the orientation for the heavy equipment operator program. He’s since accepted a bulldozer trainee job with Weeks Marine and is enrolled in the CDL class. “This program truly has been a blessing,” DuFrechou said. “I’ve learned to do some amazing work with this equipment. Basically, it is like an art project. You start with dirt and then make it what it is supposed to be. Of course, you must be mindful of safety issues, but it is an incredible opportunity to create something behind this powerful equipment.”
For information about the heavy equipment operator program, expected to start in October, visit www.lctcs.edu/workforce-solutions, or contact NTCC’s Workforce Training and Development at (985) 545-1667.
EDITORS: NTCC administrators and course instructors can be made available for interviews. Additionally, more action photos of the class are also available.
GROUP PHOTO Northshore Technical Community College celebrated the graduation of its inaugural heavy equipment operators' program. The 12-week course was made possible by PRO Louisiana, a workforce development program designed to ready in-demand “professional resilience occupations” for employment. Pictured from left are (front row) Joshua Johnson, Nicholas Vidros, Eric Poyorena, Gary Barrow III, Raymond Spires; (back row) NTCC Assistant Director of STEM Outreach Chris Montgomery, instructor Aaron Keaton, Desi Barnes, Shamonique Crawford, Drew DuFrechou, Devin Green, Trent Hernandez, Marvin Johnson, and instructor Donald Gholar.