When Sasol announced in 2012 that its proposed ethylene cracker and gas-to-liquids fuel complex would create 7,000 construction and 1,200 permanent jobs, Southwest Louisiana rejoiced.
The huge projects attracted $20 million in state funding for a 6,200-m2 expansion of the process engineering school at Sowela Technical Community College in Lake Charles, La. Sasol itself is spending approximately $4 million over three years on initiatives including scholarship and career counseling programs that are likely to also benefit more than a dozen chemical manufacturers and refiners operating along the shipping channel in Westlake, La.
A resource guide for finding employment in industry was developed by Sasol in partnership with schools and community organizations. The company followed the guide with a scholarship program for unemployed and underemployed residents interested in taking noncredit training courses. Sasol invested $500,000 in the program, which began with a pilot targeting 50 students.
The scholarships support training programs at Sowela and the Associated Builders & Contractors trade school in Westlake, according to Sara Judson, chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana. The scholarship fund also covers a career counseling and mentorship program. Sasol, she notes, is interested in serving communities closest to its operations and is giving preferential status to applicants from the historically black town of Mossville, La.
Meanwhile, at Sowela, work is being completed on the Sowela Regional Training Center, commonly referred to as the Sasol building. It’s expected to open next month.
The college developed a process engineering curriculum in the 1990s, according to David Lafargue, dean of the school of industrial technology. “Process engineering had tended to be on-the-job training,” he says. “But industry wanted more of an academic understanding.”
Enrollment in industrial technology courses has doubled over the past three years to more than 700, he says. “But it’s not about the numbers. We are working on increasing the quality of job training.”
Other companies operating in the region support Sowela, with Phillips 66 donating $2 million for a building and Lake Charles LNG giving the school $260,000 for equipment. Sasol, Lafargue says, will be involved with program development at the new facility, which will include an auditorium, lecture halls, and labs for training in instrumentation, electrical work, pipe fitting, and control console operation.
Judson is hoping that the scholarship develops into a community-funded program in which other regional firms participate. Lake Charles LNG made two payments into the fund totaling $100,000, she says. Other companies say they are interested in the results of the pilot and may contribute, she says.