St. Bernard, Nunez and GNO Inc. team-up for industrial training program

St. Bernard Parish, Nunez Community College and GNO Inc. have launched a new initiative to provide scholarships for Nunez’s technical and industrial programs, with St. Bernard President Dave Peralta touting his administration as the first in the state to use Hurricane Katrina federal disaster money for that type of educational purpose.

Peralta said this week that the program is another way to help rebuild the parish following the disaster that rocked its population and economy nearly nine years ago.

The push to advertise the nascent scholarship program comes as Chalmette High School students graduate Thursday evening (May 15). But Andrew Becker, who manages the parish Community Development Block Grant funds used for the scholarship, said the money will be available not just to recent high school graduates but also to older individuals who might be looking for new career opportunities.

“Even if someone got a history degree or some other type of degree in college, and now they want to go back to school and learn a more technical trade, then this could be the program for them to learn and get a degree in a skill that can bring in more money for their family,” said Becker, who helped create the program along with former parish Chief Administrative Officer Jerry Graves.

According to the program’s grant application, which in part provided “recovery rationale” for the funding, the parish’s population is 45 percent of its pre-Katrina figure. The application said it is “imperative for St. Bernard to train its current and future workforce in order to sustain present industry but also to meet job forecasts through 2016.”

The grant money must go toward at least 82 scholarships for students in Nunez’s one-year industrial maintenance certification programs and its two-year industrial technology (P-Tech) program. The grant application estimates that at least 80 percent of the students will find jobs upon graduating from both programs.

Ernest Frazier, who oversees the program at Nunez, said four students already have received the grant for the current semester that ends next week, and that three more have applied and four others have expressed interest.

To apply, Frazier said that interested applicants must first apply to Nunez itself, which is explained on the college’s website at Additional questions about the admissions process can be answered by calling the admissions department 504.278.6467 or emailing the department at[email protected].

Over the past six years, Nunez’s industrial-focused programs have grown from about 60 students to more than 200 students, and the grant money is expected to expand them even further.

The metro New Orleans area is projected to have about 56,000 job openings – new jobs, turnover and retirees – in skilled craft positions in the energy industry that only require a 2-year college degree or less, according to statistics provided by Jana Sikdar, GNO Inc.’s director of workforce and retention. GNO Inc. partnered with Nunez and St. Bernard government in developing the grant program.

According to 2012 U.S. Census estimates, 81 percent of St. Bernard residents have graduated from high school but only 11.4 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. And, in terms of St. Bernard residents who are 25 years or older, 23.1 percent of them have attended some college and 5.2 percent have earned an associate’s degree, according to U.S. Census estimates.

“While research-based institutions provide important data and develop methodology, the community college puts that research and those methodologies into practices, training the populace to fill positions required to bring business and industry to the region,” the grant applications states. “Thus, the community college becomes the catalyst within the economic engine of a region.”

Becker and Peralta said this week that they currently are looking to getting additional funding for scholarships focused on training students in trades useful for the local film industry. They noted recent filming in the parish of the True Detective television show and the yet-to-be-released Terminator 5 as prime examples of how film labor is needed in their own backyard not to mention throughout the state.

“For the New Orleans area, including Nunez’s home parish of St. Bernard, to reach a level of competition in the region, nation, and the world again, we must continue to upgrade the skills of its workforce toward those industries that are deeply rooted in the area,” the grant application states.

St. Bernard received about $92 million in Community Development Block Grant disaster recovery money from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and so the $500,000 for the Nunez workforce grant is relatively small change. About $41 million went toward the new parish hospital, $30.3 million for a new water treatment plant, $11 million to the expansion of the Val Reiss Park, about $3 million to Old Arabi revitalization, $3 million to sewer work, about $1.8 for road improvements, $300,000 toward fair housing, and $150,000 towards the master land use and zoning plan.

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