SLCC’s New Carpentry Training Program Builds Skills
Updated: Nov 17, 2019
by Grant Alexander
For nearly 13 years Mr. Gerald Porter has been actively advocating to establish a carpentry training program in the Acadiana area.
“I got tired of repairing,” Porter said. “Always fixing. Fixing, fixing, fixing. I wanted to start catching the next generation of true carpenters and contractors who could be knowledgeable about the industry.”
South Louisiana Community College, in partnership with the Masters Guild of Acadiana, is making this dream a reality for Porter and the community he serves. Enrollment is now open for the newly established SLCC Carpentry Training Program held at the emerging Evangeline Campus in St Martinville.
This program will help to build a much needed skilled labor force for Acadiana. Owner and operator of Artisan Specialties, a custom tile and flooring installation company, Jeremy Cantrell said a lack of skilled labor is costing local business owners hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
“There’s an overall loss of profit,” Cantrell said. “I’ll spend four hours per week going to look at jobs that weren’t done correctly and another four on jobs where we have to fix something we did incorrectly.”
That equates to nearly 20 percent of the year lost to fixing jobs. And who shoulders this cost? Cantrell said it’s a mix of contractors and homeowners.
“At the end of the day, if I have to go and re-do a job that another installer did incorrectly, it’s usually the property owner who ends up paying twice,” Cantrell said.
At the ribbon cutting for the program, SLCC Corporate College Vice President Jermain Ford said he is excited to be filling a need for the community.
“We heard from the industry that there was a need,” Ford said. “And that there was a skills gap. So we asked, which program do we need to start? They said ‘Carpentry’, from residential to industrial to commercial. We said ‘Great! We have a phenomenal instructor in Mr. Gerald Porter, who’s helping to connect the dots.”
And connecting is exactly what Porter has done. Brian Lankau of Lankau Custom Woodworks was searching for qualified workers when Mr. Porter reached out to him about the Carpentry Program.
“I was turning over every rock trying to hire people who could at least do what they said they could do when Porter called saying he wanted to get a training program going,” Lankau said. “I said, ‘Do it! We’ll hire them! And we can help!’”
The Level One Carpentry Training program will be ten weeks long and upon completion, students will receive a certificate and be eligible to enroll in paid apprenticeship programs with structured upward pay mobility and benefits. The MGA Journeyman Initiative will be sponsoring the pending State Registered Apprenticeship tailored to receive SLCC graduates.
“It’s an art form that’s getting lost,” Porter said. “It’s a good living and an honest living.”
One of the biggest proponents of getting the program put in place was the Masters’ Guild of Acadiana. Kerry Duet has spear-headed the MGA Journeyman Initiative to grow and improve the skilled labor force in our community.
“All of us [in the construction industry] need to support the development of the skilled trades,” Duet said. “Most of the guys who really know how to do the job are getting ready to retire. This could create a vicious cycle of unskilled labor and lack of trainers.”
MGA has been instrumental in kicking off the program through development, marketing, and directed donations from local construction businesses
“It’s a great partnership with MGA,” said Charlotte Leleux, SLCC Program Leader. “They came to the table and knew the need and the gap that needed to be filled. So we were happy to put together a training program with those guys and they’ve been a phenomenal partner in giving back to the program.”
MGA Members presented the first donation check to SLCC at the September ribbon cutting to lower tuition cost to students.
MGA’s vision for the program is to have students filter in at the educational level, get the right training in the classroom as well as on the job site, all while reducing the cost of labor to contractors and builders.
“If we don’t regulate ourselves and put some standards in place, someone else is going to come do it for us,” Duet said. “And the construction industry might not be happy with how those regulations get put in place. It’s a good time to get ahead of our own issues.”
So why was it important for SLCC to be a part of this solution?
“You really have to look at what businesses forecast for the next three, five, and ten years,” Ford said. “We really do need to be able to create a well-trained workforce. If you look at the unemployment rate in the regions that SLCC serves, we have unemployment rates as high as 6 percent. The national average is 3.83 percent. We have a lot of work to do.”
And that work will lead to a cycle of skilled labor providers and happy customers, according to Porter.
“It’ll just keep growing because the consumer is going to request it,” Porter said. “The consumer is going to want this. They’re going to want the quality. Things are changing.”
There are few times in a community’s lifecycle when multiple levels of industry, education, and business join forces to solve a problem. There are even fewer instances where solutions have the traction to impact an economy on multiple levels. Acadiana has that unique opportunity now to control its own destiny in the building community.