Innovative program gives young people options
By Edmund W. Lewis, Editor
November 6, 2006
Patrick Barnes saw an opportunity to make a difference in New Orleans and he took it.
The Orlando, Florida businessman, owner of Barnes, Ferland & Associates, Inc., came to New Orleans about a year ago to help out with recovery efforts. Contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to lend his firm's expertise in environmental engineering, Barnes decided to duplicate a program he initiated in Florida years ago to engage unemployed and underemployed young people in creater brighter economic futures for themselves while protecting the community against environmental hazards.
Collaborating with Limitless Vistas Inc.(LVI), a workforce training and development program designed to train inner-city youth, Barnes established a program in New Orleans that gives youth in Greater New Orleans an opportunity for a better life. Students in the program complete a 12-week program before becoming certified as environmental engineering technicians.
The program targets young people between the ages of 17 and 25 with a high school diploma. Participants are required to fill out an application and undergo a formal interview with program officials.
"We're trying to identify kids who might not be college-bound but have a lot of potential nevertheless and might not have a chance to realize that potential," Barnes told The Louisiana Weekly.
Over a 12-week period, participants are introduced to a wide variety of subjects and skills including general engineering, workplace ethics, environmental regulations, site assessments, facility audits, working in teams, using engineering equipment and computers and OHSA health/safety procedures. In addition to receiving classroom instruction from Pamela Frank, a retired educator, environmentalists and other professionals, participants gain real-world experience by being paired with engineers to assist them in conducting fieldwork.
Although Barnes, Ferland and Associates is presently funding the program, both the Orlando-based firm and Limitless Vistas Inc. are seeking grants and other sources of funding that will allow them to expand the program to offer opportunities to more young adults.
Once they complete the program, participants will be eligible for employment and additional training as environmental engineering technician. Asked what that job entails, Barnes said, "Environmental technicians help with sample collection, various types of measurement conducted in the field, collection of soil samples, sediment samples, stream measurements, groundwater samples for monitoring wells...you generally help out on construction projects that have environmental components to them.
"Environmental technicians also get involved in levee soil sampling," he continued. "There are number of different things that they can be trained to do and assist an actual engineer in the field."
Barnes says the program gives young adults access to a field that will allow them to earn salaries above the minimum wage and achieve financial independence. "Generally, the environmental industry is one of the strongest nationally, and worldwide for that matter," he explained. "It's a very strong, very mature industry to be in. It touches all aspects of various types of projects. It's a very broad field and there's a lot of expansion potential in different areas that you could go into. Once you gain that initial technicial-level knowledge, you can always go back to school and get an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. Or you might decide to stay and assist with projects at the technician level. But even at that level, once you learn all the skills that are needed, you can be a valuable asset to just about any firm involved in that kind of work."
Barnes explained that before levees and other projects can even begin, research and field work need to be done to assess the environmental impact of different projects and procedures.
At some point, the program will begin reaching out to high school students who may be uncertain of what they want to do after graduation, particularly since the local public school system offers very little in the way of vocational training. "They're going to need so many professionals over the next 20 years to help restore this community to where it needs to be," Barnes told The Louisiana Weekly. "This is one of the types of programs that could help to form that foundation.
"That's one of our goals, to identify the kids that have that type of technical aptitude and interest but might not necessarily be college-bound. We want to get them interested in some other things and give them viable options."
With so much labor needed for post-Katrina New Orleans to recover from last year's hurricanes and flooding, the program explects to enroll more than 100 students in the program in 2007 and form partnerships with other corporations committed to ensuring that the city's recovery and reconstruction are environmentally sound.
Thus far, the program has trained six young people and are currently training another three students. "We're trying to get to the point where we can train at least 40 to 50 kids every six months," Barnes said.
The next 12-week training program is slated to begin in March.
Anyone interested in enrolling in the program can do so through the city's Job1 program or contact Limitless Vistas Inc. directly at (504) 529-4301.