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The I-20 Connection

NWLTC partners with I-20 colleges to enhance workforce

Over the past few months, the Press-Herald has reported extensively on collaboration efforts between Webster Parish schools, the City of Minden, and area colleges to improve the local workforce. In addition to this work, Northwest Louisiana Technical College has been forming similarly focused partnerships on a regional level.

NWLTC has been working alongside Louisiana Delta Community College and Bossier Parish Community College to ensure a better workforce product along the I-20 corridor. This collaboration includes equipment sharing, curriculum adjustments, and more.

Earl Meador, NWLTC Director, said the inspiration for cross-college collaboration came when a major manufacturer began looking into building a facility in the area.

“I went to a meeting with a site selector that had looked at developing a manufacturing facility in north Louisiana, including potentially at Camp Minden,” he said. “But the site selector was very blunt about us not having a large enough workforce prepared to bring a major manufacturer into our region. So that really got my attention.”

Meador said he started a dialogue with Dennis Epps, chancellor at Delta, and Rick Bateman, chancellor at BPCC about working together to more readily equip the region’s workforce.

“We started talking about what was needed to make our region different, to make it strong,” Meador said. “We came to the conclusion that while we all want to grow economically in our region, big employers are afraid to come to us because of the workforce piece, and the infrastructure piece. So we began to think about ways we can pool our resources and actually grow our economy one job at a time.”

One result of this pooling of resources was the loaning of four state-of-the-art CNC (computer numerical control) machines from Delta to NWLTC. Scott Price, assistant dean of the Minden campus, said the equipment will greatly enhance the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology program.

“When you have manual mills and lathes, a person gets on those and makes a part one at a time, and it’s a really slow process,” he said. “The new way of thinking is it’s all computer controlled, so they program what they’re going to make, and it repetitively makes the exact same thing every time.

Students at NWLTC who receive CNC training must first become familiar with the manual mill and lathe. Price said the CNC training is extremely useful for students as they enter the workforce.

“A lot of the machine tool shops, they all have CNC now,” he said. “You still need to have the guy who’s going to build the part manually, because you may only need one. But CNC is important for mass production.”

Price said the cross-college collaboration works because students have already demonstrated their willingness to travel for the right training.

“We see people here at this campus who come from east of Monroe, all the way from the Mississippi state line,” he said. “They come from the Texas state line for our programs. The other schools [along I-20] do the same thing. People living in the central area here will travel to Shreveport or Monroe to work. So for us it’s about getting the people here, getting them trained, and getting them jobs.”

Meador said that due to its program offerings and location, the Minden campus of NWLTC is positioning itself to become the next level of training for many students who start at Delta or BPCC.

“Louisiana Delta and BPCC have great C4M programs, which is an entry-level advanced manufacturing program,” he said.

“They’re doing that in high school in their Jump Start. So I said, ‘What if we focus on the next phase? What if we take our advanced machine program to the next level?’ So they ended up sending us very expensive pieces of equipment as part of this collaborative. And they’ll be sending us some students, which will all start to grow the regional economy and advanced manufacturing capability for our region.

NWLTC is shifting its curriculum to add more part-time opportunities and become more receptive of students coming from other I-20 colleges for additional training. The Advanced Manufacturing Program with a Machine Tool emphasis, equipped with the new CNC machines, will become a destination for students from state line to state line.

“We have a lot of companies that are hiring the students out of Machine Tool,” Price said. “It’s not one of our larger programs, but it’s still a very high-wage, high-demand, high-skill job. They can go to work with this here in Minden, Ruston, Monroe, or Shreveport. We’re the only school left offering this program north of Alexandria.”

This cooperation among colleges works hand-in-hand with the collaboration education collaboration in Webster Parish reported on previously. Meador said he believes each piece of the puzzle will continue to fit together until the area’s workforce is ready for the next level.

“In ten years, I see our region being ready to compete for a major manufacturing investment of some sort,” he said.

“Because if we invest in our workforce, and especially invest in our local businesses as the suppliers, it’s going to come. We have the resources, we have the land, we have the transportation hubs; we need to let the employers see that we have the workforce now and the infrastructure to supply that. And they’re going to come. It’s just a matter of us doing the work first.”