By Juanice Gray
“…this is an opportunity I can’t pass up,” said Reid Cobbs of Bellmont. He was one of seven Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program students at Central La. Technical and Community College (CLTCC) who signed a commitment letter Tuesday, Aug. 7.
The commitment was not for sports or the arts, but to join the workforce while studying the AMT curriculum.
“I was wanting to go to college,” Cobbs said. “I am interested in engineering.” He will be employed by Stella-Jones in Noble, a 20 minute commute from his home, three days per week and will be in the classroom two days per week. He said Stella-Jones was his first choice for employment, in part because of it’s location.
Cobbs, like his six fellow cohorts, is in his first semester at CLTCC and is enrolled in the program that brings together the manufacturing industry, Northwestern State University and CLTCC in a concerted effort to provide a skilled workforce to north Louisiana. Only 16 months in the making, the program has already proven to be successful with three students entering their second year, while remaining gainfully employed. Ben Gewin works at Alliance Compressors, Taylor Kight at Stella-Jones and Melonia McDaniael at Pilgrim’s Pride. Upon completion, these students will graduate with a degree from NSU, a certificate from CLTCC and two years of hands-on work experience from participating industries, which include those mentioned above, Boise-Cascade, RoyOMartin and Afco.
Christopher Robertson is another signee. From Zwolle, he will be employed by Boise-Cascade in Florien. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and had some interest in it (the AMT program). Jana Lucky at NSU talked to me about it. I had already done dual enrollment while in high school, in math and English, and saw this as a fit for me,” Robertson said. “Boise was also my first choice because it is close to home and I can see myself staying there.”
Just because a student is interested in the AMT program, employment is not guaranteed.
Tony Davis, director of the Natchitoches Community Alliance Foundation which specializes in economic development, said the application allows the student to say they would like to work for a company, and put down a preference, but there is no guarantee. “When it comes to the hiring process we have to reconcile that we have, say 10 people applying for two positions,” Davis said. “The employers interview the students through this program then they have to go through a second interview at the facility. They are actual employees. It’s very important to know you cannot simply opt into this program, you can apply, but you have to have application requirements and be employed by a participating manufacturer.”
Every company has their own policy for benefits, but each one does agree to pay a minimum of $12 per hour.
The signing is a “good faith” gesture for the students to remain with the employer as they continue their education, but it is not a requirement. “For the employer, their incentive is to provide a good working experience for the employee and have them become part of their ‘family’ and build loyalty. For the employee, they have an opportunity to gain this credential, which is tremendous. They will have skills, so they could go somewhere else (for employment) but they have the sense that they are being invested in, in that they have the potential for a lasting career. They have the opportunity to be leaps and bounds above their peer group, in experience and opportunity,” Davis said.
Randy Garza signed with Alliance Compressors. A resident of Franklinton, he said he would relocate to pursue his degree. His parents, Randy Sr. and Stacy Garza, made the four and a half hour trip with him to see their son sign. “We fully support him and this program,” Stacy said. “He has always shown interest in engineering and mechanical.” They learned of the AMT courses through a recruiting program. “His eyes got really big as he heard about it and we knew this would work for him.”
Craig Caskey, representing Alliance, said last year’s participant, Gewin, had been an asset and they were excited to have Garza joining their workforce.
As a high school counselor in Sabine Parish, Terri Cobbs has unique insight, and appreciation into the opportunity offered. She said her son, Reid, got excited and the family knew this would be the perfect fit for his career goals. “I will introduce this program to more of our students in my school and in the parish,” Terri said. “I can now start sooner, as they are juniors, getting these students to understand the program and take advantage of it.”
Where does she see her son in five years? “I hope he is still with the company. They have invested time in him and he’s been working with them since June. He really likes it and my wish is for him to be happy with his job and coworkers.”
NSU President Chris Maggio said the program is changing the face of workforce development. “It is a glimpse into the future,” he said. “They work and they take classes right here at CLTCC in classes taught by NSU professors and technical college instructors. What Louisiana will have is an educated workforce.”
CLTCC Chancellor Jimmy Sawtell said, “You can argue with a lot of things in life, but a change in a direction of a career is not one of them.” He said he and Dr. Maggio sat down all those months ago and reached an agreement where NSU would be the first college to take CLTCC’s general courses and let those courses transfer from any campus.
Boise-Cascade signed Robertson and Kyle Ashley of Fort Polk.
Connie Baker, director of HR for RoyOMartin introduced their signees, Alan Crowder, Liam Lutz and Josue Urbana. Crowder will be at the OSV facility while Lutz and Urbana will be at the Chopin facility. “They will first and foremost be safe,” she said. “They will have an opportunity to learn the operations and once they learn those, they will join the maintenance staff.”
Josh Lewis, representing Stella-Jones in north Sabine Parish, said of Cobbs before he signed, “He is doing a very good job already, learning very quickly, is hands-on and we are very excited about that.”
Sen. Gerald Long spoke on education. “Seventy percent of the jobs created in Louisiana in the next 10 years will not require a four-year degree, but it will require a highly skilled person ready and prepared to go to work from day one. We actually have normalized the budget so that the next seven years we will have a reliable source for our colleges, universities and technical colleges to plan progressively toward the future.”