By Jennifer Larino

Entergy is giving $1 million in grants to Louisiana workforce development programs, including money for job training at Delgado Community College as well as re-entry support for the formerly incarcerated in New Orleans, company leaders said Monday (Nov. 14).

Gov. John Bel Edwards joined Entergy Louisiana CEO Phillip May and Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice in downtown New Orleans to announce the grants, which will be used to support five different organizations statewide working to educate, train and prepare local residents for careers in growing industries. Entergy leaders said the grants are funded by shareholder dollars.

Edwards said the state needs to do a better job at finding and helping groups most vulnerable in today’s economy, whether they are young people at risk of dropping out of college, those whose factory jobs are being replaced by technology or formerly incarcerated men and women struggling to find stable work.

“If you get right down to it this $1 million is an investment in the most precious natural resource that God has entrusted to us. That is our people,” Edwards said.

The grants include:

  • $500,000 to Louisiana Economic Development to fund manufacturing certifications through the state’s Fast Start and Jump Start programs.
  • $169,000 to Operation Spark, which provides software design and engineering immersion training for low-income young adults in New Orleans.
  • $100,000 to the Louisiana Construction Education Foundation for scholarships and training for students seeking construction certifications.
  • $100,000 to Delgado Community College for scholarships, support and training of students seeking certifications in construction, health care and technology.
  • $75,000 to Jobs for America’s Graduates of Louisiana to provide education support service and job training for at-risk youth.
  • $75,000 to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to provide case management and a revolving loan fund for the re-entry program,

Entergy has committed to donating $5 million over the next five years in support job-training programs. These grants are the first announced under the initiative.

Not all of the $5 million will be going to Louisiana. Entergy plans to support workforce initiatives across its service territory, which also includes Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.

Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice and Patricia Riddlebarger, director of corporate social responsibility for Entergy Services Inc., said the New Orleans grants target areas where the company feels its dollars can go farthest: health care, technology and the oppressive cycle of mass incarceration.

The $75,000 grant to the Criminal District Court’s re-entry program will help fund a revolving loan fund that will help men and women getting out of prison improve their credit and access affordable financial services.

Operation Spark will use its grant to fund seats in the program’s three-month software design and engineering immersion course, which readies students for jobs in software development.

Entergy provides power and it thrives only if the community it serves thrives, Riddlebarger said.

Rice added the utility also plays a role in helping attract companies to the state. It makes sense to ensure the region’s workers are educated and prepared for jobs in the pipeline, he said.

“We are also in the economic development business and us making these grants is a part of that strategy,” Rice said.

State officials and business leaders crowded Monday into a meeting room at the Entergy New Orleans building on Perdido Street for the announcement.

They echoed the same concern that framed much of the economic debate during the U.S. presidential election — technology is chipping away at quality jobs available to workers without a college degree. Many parts of the American workforce are playing catch-up.

“Jobs are being replaced by technology, by robotics,” Louisiana Economic Development Sec. Don Pierson said. “The jobs of tomorrow belong to an educated and well-trained workforce.”

Most of the $500,000 grant to Louisiana Economic Development will be used to support job training in north Louisiana. Low U.S. natural gas prices have driven a boom in outside investment in the state’s petrochemical industry, but most of those plants and jobs are in south Louisiana. State officials hope to attract new industries in north Louisiana and statewide by getting workers ready for the type of jobs that will be in demand over coming decades.

Engaging older workers who can be re-trained to do new jobs is a key part of that mission, Edwards said. He recalled a recent visit to Fletcher Technical Community College in Shriever, La. Most of the students were middle-aged men.

“We as a state are going to have to do a better job at identifying those adults who have some college credit, but not enough to have graduated,” Edwards said. “We need to communicate with those people and bring them back.”