Higher Education Partnerships Attract Major Tech Companies

As a catalyst for growth, Louisiana’s creation of powerful partnerships between universities and private employers continues to deliver results in the global search for highly skilled workforce talent.

The trend is particularly visible in Louisiana’s fast-growing technology sector, where recently announced projects will create more than 3,000 new software development and information technology jobs over the next four years.

Firms that choose Louisiana for technology projects describe the state as a pioneer in the use of such training partnerships. And those firms — CGI, CSC, GE Capital, IBM and others — repeatedly point to the opportunity to collaborate with higher education partners as a critical component of their site-selection decisions.

University-industry partnerships empower Louisiana campuses to make meaningful changes to the training and education of their students, ensuring that graduates are optimally prepared for life beyond the college campus. For software and IT firms, the benefit is a bigger pipeline of employees possessing the precise skills they demand.

The model takes its cue from the traditional apprenticeship models of years, sometimes centuries, past. But it’s a re-emerging trend updated to reflect the needs of Louisiana technology companies that are forging solutions to emerging challenges faced by businesses in every industry. 

Core of the Collaboration
The collaboration follows a core model. University-industry partnerships in Louisiana are creating new courses and academic programs as campuses adjust their offerings to suit the evolving needs of expanding technology firms.

Each partnership contains unique elements that reflect capacity and skills demanded by a technology company as it establishes new operations in Louisiana.

One of the state’s newest technology projects underscores the trend. In early 2014, CGI, a global IT company, announced it would establish a technology center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette) Research Park, a project that will create 400 new positions. Economic development officials estimate the project will result in an additional 405 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 800 new permanent jobs in Acadiana.

The project includes a state-funded, $4.5 million higher education investment designed to triple the number of computer science bachelor’s degrees awarded each year by UL Lafayette.

But the partnership is broad-based and extends well beyond expanding a regional pipeline of tech talent. UL Lafayette will facilitate partnerships between CGI and the Louisiana Immersive Technology Enterprise — a 3-D visualization research center — on projects CGI is pursuing, explained Ramesh Kolluru, vice president for research at UL Lafayette. And the university will look for ways to tap CGI’s capabilities as a strategic advantage in pursuing projects of its own, he said.

“We will help each other compete for projects more effectively,” Kolluru said.

The university will develop a series of professional certifications and short courses for new and existing employees at CGI and other regional tech firms in such areas as big data analytics and cloud computing, he said.

Another element of the UL Lafayette-CGI partnership will highlight innovation itself. The 50,000-square-foot, $13.1 million building that the state will fund for CGI at UL Lafayette’s Research Park will include an innovation center that will showcase innovative technology developed by CGI and its research partners at UL Lafayette.

CGI has partnered with colleges and universities elsewhere, but the innovation center at UL Lafayette will be unique, said Mark Eschle, a CGI vice president. It will give the company a place to share its solutions with clients from across the nation.

“The goal is a direct partnership that will allow us to bring research to bear on the challenges our clients face,” Eschle said. “It’s an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to clients how you can innovate with technology.”

Across Louisiana, collaboration on curriculum and real-world challenges is driving other university-industry partnerships tied to technology projects.

Spurring Technology Interest
In Baton Rouge, where IBM will establish a technology solutions center that will employ 800 professionals, Louisiana State University will triple its work-ready, computer science graduates with the help of a $14 million, 10-year state education initiative.

The university’s College of Engineering aims to increase the number of computer science graduates through initiatives such as the “Geaux Digital Louisiana” consortium, a statewide program to promote interest in technology-related careers among high school students.

In Northwest Louisiana, CSC is partnering with Louisiana Tech University to ensure the university’s graduates are equipped for working at the company’s new 800-job technology center in Bossier City, where CSC will create solutions in cloud computing, cybersecurity and technology consulting.

Dave Zolet, CSC executive vice president, said the opportunity to partner with Louisiana Tech and nearby colleges was critical in the company’s selection of Bossier City among 133 competing U.S. sites.

Louisiana Tech’s leadership in cyber engineering and its cooperative-educational agreements with nearby Barksdale Air Force Base were especially compelling, he noted.

Having the opportunity to help shape the university’s curriculum means “the ability to develop a next-generation workforce with skills that are transferable and capable of supporting our global customer base,” Zolet said.

In New Orleans, where GE Capital is establishing a 300-job technology center, students at the University of New Orleans (UNO) are taking part in a pioneering internship program. Participants in UNO’s state-funded Software Engineering Apprenticeship Program get hands-on experience in every phase of projects that may last eight or nine months, explained Mike De Boer, the GE Capital Technology Center’s chief information officer.

“The interns have a chance to directly impact GE products and services,” De Boer said. “The program is a reflection of the state’s commitment to investing in aligning the university curriculum with what the IT sector needs.”