The Southeastern United States has a significant industrial presence. From oil and gas to chemical refineries to manufacturing, this region of the country has a growing need for a workforce with specific industrial and construction skill sets. Southeastern’s industrial and engineering technology programs have been helping students build careers in these fields through strong academic preparation and practical, real-world experience. Graduates regularly have job offers in their field before graduation earning above average salaries.
As the industrial sector continues to expand and grow, of particular need are professionals to inspect and manage welding efforts. While welders are always in high demand, an even more specific skillset is needed.
“Every time you connect two pieces of metal, you need a weld,” said Anthony Blakeney, instructor of industrial technology specializing in materials and processes. New construction and industrial facility maintenance require experienced welders, who are traditionally trained at community colleges. But there is also a growing need for welding inspectors, supervisors and managers. On a nationwide basis, those occupying these types of positions are retiring, creating an acute need.
Through direct industry investment, involvement and guidance, Southeastern will soon expand its industrial technology offerings and occupy a unique niche in the industrial sector to produce more graduates in this field.
Performance Contractors, an industrial construction, management and fabrication firm headquartered in Baton Rouge, is partnering with Southeastern to create a new academic concentration in welding inspection and supervision. Louisiana’s industry-heavy economy is in constant need of industrial professionals, and this partnership will enable Southeastern’s Industrial Technology program to further develop the concentration and increase enrollment to help meet workforce demands. The concentration will be named the Performance Contractors Welding Technology Program.
Art Favre, co-founder and President of Performance Contractors, has made a $1 million donation to Southeastern in support the initiative. Favre said he hopes this partnership with Southeastern will encourage other companies to do the same, making the university a major hub for producing much needed industrial specialists to meet Louisiana’s workforce needs. He stated, “Southeastern's current and developing programs will help boost the workforce expertise in these important areas. We need well-prepared and trained industrial team members at the professional level, and Southeastern is committed to providing opportunity to students to become job-ready in those areas."
The development of the welding inspection and supervision academic program is seen as a significant partnership between industry and higher education to ensure future workforce needs are met and economic development in the industrial sector continues to grow. Louisiana is regularly listed as being in the top five states in need of welders, welding inspectors and associated supervisors.
“An important part of Southeastern’s mission is to lead the economic development of this region. We strive to work directly with business and industry partners on an ongoing basis to determine their employment needs in the future and to develop curricula to meet those needs. Our board of advisors for industrial and engineering technology has a significant hand in creating areas of academic focus,” said John Crain, Southeastern president. “Partnership with industry and economic development entities is key to being responsive to the needs of the marketplace, as well as to offer students the most in-demand fields of study.”
Blakeney noted that while many of the state’s technical and community colleges are graduating certified welders, there is a significant need for graduates at a more advanced level, professionals trained in supervision and inspection. “Our Industrial Technology degree program is accredited by ATMAE, the Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering, and once this concentration is in place, we will be the first university in the country to have it as part of an ATMAE accredited program.”
“There’s no working fast on critical welding work,” Blakeney said. “Each weld must be 100 percent correct, 100 percent of the time.” “Each weld needs inspection and must be correct. Southeastern will produce those Professionals.”
The new program will also provide options for current welders and those graduating from welding programs to further their education.
“Our intent is to use this opportunity to renovate our classroom and laboratory space, upgrade equipment, and increase student capacity,” said Dan McCarthy, dean of the College of Science and Technology. “With the new academic concentration, Southeastern expects demand for this program to increase. “This is really a win-win for all parties. The students benefit with greater job opportunities, the university benefits with expanded enrollment, and industry benefits with more highly qualified graduates,” concluded McCarthy.
David Helveston, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors - Pelican Chapter, which focuses efforts on workforce development in the region, said, “This investment will lead to great careers for Southeastern’s students and future industrial growth in the state. A highly trained professional workforce is essential for economic development opportunities in the area.”
Favre concluded, "Due to the heavy industrial presence in the Southeastern United States, we have unique workforce needs. I hope that this partnership will produce supervisory and managerial industrial professionals with greater skill sets which should help the economic expansion continue.”
The announcement of the partnership gained attention among those concerned with economic development and workforce training.
“Well-trained workers in welding and welding inspection are critically important to the future of Louisiana’s metallurgical industries,” Louisiana Economic Development FastStart Executive Director Paul Helton said. “Workers educated in these fields have outstanding career prospects in industrial construction, shipbuilding, oil and gas-related manufacturing, and railcar and machining assembly across Louisiana. The Performance Contractors donation to Southeastern will provide invaluable funding as we prepare future welding leaders for some of the more than 16,000 jobs in our state that require this vital skill-set.” LED FastStart® is the No. 1 state workforce training program in the U.S., with a focus on customized training for expanding employers in Louisiana.
Southeastern’s ongoing desire to work directly with industry partners produces strong and in-demand academic programs that will have an impact on the university, its students and the region’s economy.