Juanice Gray | Editor
How many times have you looked back at your life and reflected, “If I’d only known what this was really like I’d have done it sooner, or not at all.” Gen X and older really didn’t have many opportunities, but the younger generations have the chance to learn skills and explore potential careers while still in high school. Central La. Career and Technical College (CLTCC) and Natchitoches Parish School Board (NPSB) have collaborated over the last several years to provide a free summer camp for students interested in welding, cosmetology and entrepreneurship.
Patrick Masson, an incoming junior at Natchitoches Central enrolled in the welding program on the CLTCC campus. He said his dad and uncles do some welding, but his grandfather was a professional offshore welder.
“It’s our third week. We’re trying to get the beads down and hopefully we’re going to get to horizontal and vertical skills,” he said. He’s looking to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and pursue welding as a career. “I like welding and it’s one of the main things I want to go after in college. I want to learn and get used to it now, while I can.”
Lakeview senior Taylor Stewart also comes from a family of men with welding skills. His goal is to ensure he has options for his future. “I’m getting into this just in case what I’m going for doesn’t work out, I can use this to fall back on,” he said. He plans to pursue a career in biology, but what he is learning this summer is giving him the skills he will need to enter the workforce.
NPSB Director of Operations Felicia Pinkney said welding students can get NCCER core welding certification. “Whether the student is in the welding or the cosmetology program, they are engaged in a micro enterprise certification program for small business entrepreneurship. It allows students to understand the business end of how these things work.”
CLTCC Campus Dean Laurie Morrow said, “In addition it gives students opportunities to explore career paths here. So many of the students, especially in the area of welding, will then come back after they graduate and will go on to very lucrative careers.”
Besides learning a marketable skill, students can get a stipend. “They also get a high school credit for whatever course they’re aligned to and have an opportunity to get certifications,” Pinkney said. “The courses are aligned to the Jump Start pathway and will count toward graduation.”
Stewart said he is currently learning the basics such as the electrodes, the process that happens when welding, different kinds of welds and shop safety. He said he had to put in the effort to be accepted into the program. “I had to do a Google doc, provide my name and explain what I want to do and why. For me, I wanted to do the summer program because I want to learn more about welding, I wanted to get that experience.”
“Our goal is to make sure students are both college and career ready so it’s not just about getting the core classes completed. We need you to go our there and know how to be a part of the workforce,” Pinkney said.
Morrow explained that, especially in cosmetology, the micro enterprise entrepreneurship is invaluable. “So many students go into business for themselves. They get their trade, skill and open their own business and that aspect of being able to run a business and have knowledge regarding business ownership and factors involved is critical,” she said. “I’ve always tried to encourage students who come to me and say I want to become, say, an engineer that that is a wonderful goal, but come here during our summer camps in the area of welding or manufacturing so when you are that engineer and you’re overseeing people in these trades, you will understand what they are doing and are better able to oversee and supervise them.”
That statement was never more true than in the case of welding instructor James Mashburn. He was a student, then graduate of the welding program who spent many years utilizing his trade in the workforce before returning to the Natchitoches campus to teach.
A final perk of the summer camp is exposure to businesses in manufacturing looking for employees. “Business and industry come and visit with the students and do presentations. Pre-Covid we were able to go out and visit them as well. Hopefully we’ll be able to resume that soon,” Morrow said.
The welding program is a six-week course while the cosmetology program, taught by Petula Holden, is four-five weeks.