Students Offered Free Trade Skills Class


LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Several high school students this month began a new semester of after-hours classes to prepare to enter a career field after graduation.

Offered through Associated Builders and Contractors several schools in Beauregard and Calcasieu parishes have begun offering the programs, which provide training in trade skills, including pipefitting and welding.

The courses, offered on weeknights, are free and can be attended by all students throughout the parish.

ABC workforce development specialist Blaise Theard said students are provided all necessary equipment for the courses at no cost.

"This is all done through a partnership with the local industrial plants in Lake Charles and Westlake who are always looking to add trained personnel to their workforce," Theard said.

"To those facilities, this is an investment into their own company's future by providing training to a new generation of prospective employees."

At DeRidder High, students are learning to weld. Under the direction of instructor Daniel Dowers, students learn at their own pace and will be prepared to travel to ABC's Pelican Chapter in Westlake to continue training after graduation and ultimately take a certification test.

"They learn everything in this class, every position of welding and type of welding, and before they graduate they will take a test in this room that will be exactly like their certification test," Dowers said. "Each student will be fully prepared for their next phase of learning."

Student Cory Gregory, 18, said he is "completely confident" in the skills he has learned. Gregory said he plans to move straight over to ABC's Westlake office to continue his training and then seek employment. That job, he said, will be how he pays his way through college.

"This course completely changed my plans for my future," Gregory said. "Before taking this course, I wasn't really secure in what I wanted to do after graduation. I took the first course two years ago and immediately realized that I enjoyed this type of work and this is what I want to do."

DeRidder High teacher Patrick Wertz said that in addition to steering students toward a career, the courses help boost high school retention and graduation rates.

"These courses are perfect for the students who are not intrigued by the typical studies in a classroom at a desk," Wertz said.

"A student who may have questioned where they fit in with their other classes or thought about dropping out will often find their place with these classes. Then, they are coming to school every day so that they can keep coming to these classes."

Students are eligible to begin the courses at age 16, and Wertz recommended they jump on board as soon as possible — giving them more time to learn and work toward certification.

In an effort to show each graduating class the variety of job opportunities available, Theard said, job fair events are held periodically at the Westlake ABC office, where contractor officials come to meet with students and make them job offers.

"Once they receive their NCCER certification, they will quickly realize just how many offers are available to them, and it can really show them how desired they are in the workforce," he said.

Theard said the courses are offered based on the demand. Currently, in Beauregard Parish, different courses are offered at DeRidder, Singer, East Beauregard and most recently Merryville.

"Once we started offering an electrical program at East Beauregard, we began getting interest in offering a similar course on the other end of the parish," Theard said. "It just began this month at Merryville and already we have 22 students enrolled in it."

Theard said that when he began promoting the potential courses to local schools, he wasn't expecting the appreciation and support he received.

"I thought I would have to push my way through the door to be heard, and instead every school official I have spoken with has been extremely enthusiastic about providing this opportunity to local students," he said.

"It really is an amazing opportunity for these students and it is great to see full support from the schools to push these students to have a bright and secure future."

-by AP reporter Pamela Sleezer


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