Sawtelle: Technical college essential to industry

MORGAN CITY, La. — South Central Louisiana Technical College is a vital resource to maintain an industry-based economy in Morgan City and throughout the area, said Jimmy Sawtelle, the newly appointed senior vice president for Workforce Solutions at the St. Mary Parish Industrial Group’s monthly meeting Monday

Sawtelle, who is currently regional director of South Central Louisiana Technical College that includes campuses in Morgan City, Reserve and Thibodaux, will officially take over as senior vice president for Workforce Solutions on Nov. 12. He touted the college’s innovation, adaptation and continued expansion in recent years as reasons graduates stay in state to use their skills as welders, commercial divers and commercial vehicle operators, to name a few.

“We respond to the needs of business and industry,” he said.

He will now oversee Louisiana’s three technical colleges — South Central Louisiana Technical College, Capital Area Technical College in Baton Rouge and Northwest Louisiana Technical College in Natchitoches. He started out as adjunct instructor at the college in 1992.

Graduates of South Central Louisiana Technical College can land jobs out of college paying as much as $65,000, he said, adding that the 90 percent of students are hired by Louisiana companies. Still, Sawtelle views the technical college as more than just a tool for its students to find good-paying jobs.

“We see our college not just as a place for students to come to and find high-wage, high-demand, high-skilled employment,” Sawtelle said. “We actually like to see ourselves as a college that’s an economic engine.” The college brings from 50 to 100 students each year from out of town, out of state or even out of the country who contribute to the local economy, he said.

Recently, the college received $6 million from the state to build a new educational facility, Sawtelle said. The college had $600,000 of the $6 million leftover after building the new facility and plans to renovate the existing Young Memorial Campus in Morgan City to make it look similar to the new building, he said. The renovation should begin in early 2013, he said.

The Young Memorial Campus will be the first community and technical college to have living quarters on site so students can adapt to the workplace living conditions they may face offshore or on a boat, he said. “The chances of somebody becoming lovesick, homesick or seasick within the first week is very high,” Sawtelle said. “We want to provide them that environment that is very close to what they will know in their future employment.”

The marine and safety training facility, which will allow students to stay on campus to prepare them for being away from home for an extended period of time, is scheduled to open the first week of December, he said.

Among the three campuses of the college, the enrollment is nearly 3,000; and Sawtelle said tuition is slightly more than $1,000. “We are still probably one of the most, if not the most, affordable higher (education option) that returns the greatest on the investment.”

In addition to the training that the college provides to its students, outside companies and individuals also come to South Central Louisiana Technical College to receive training, Sawtelle said, noting that the college has handed out 6,334 certifications for courses such as water survival, personal safety, social responsibility and firefighting, over the past year.

The college went from receiving 70 percent of its funding from the state several years ago to receiving about 50 percent currently, forcing the college to “self-generate” more revenue, Sawtelle said. Due to state budget cutbacks, the college is focusing on “reinvesting” in its academic programs that produce “robust, high demand and high wage” jobs, he said.

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