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Training the future carbon capture workforce: An interview with Vernon Travis, Vernon Parish School Board member, on the Capturing Better Futures Initiative 

August 30, 2023 Work Area: Carbon Capture

The importance of deploying carbon capture as a means of cutting carbon pollution and tackling climate change is well recognized by climate experts, including the IPCC.  But deploying carbon capture can create other valuable benefits as well. Providing good jobs is one of them.  

To build the infrastructure needed to capture, transport, and store carbon dioxide takes workers with a broad range of skills from engineers and geologists to welders and pipefitters. The Rhodium Group has estimated that every million tons of carbon pollution captured will result in 92 construction jobs and 62 operations jobs, or a total of 64,000 new jobs during build out and 43,000 jobs during operation if we expanded to 700 million tons of capture and storage. These new jobs are in addition to the existing jobs maintained when we deploy carbon capture at existing plants. Because carbon capture is usually a retrofit at existing facilities, it is a way to cut carbon pollution without disrupting the existing workforce.  

The “Capturing Better Futures Initiative,” inaugurated in mid-August, is a promising career and technical training program for high school students that intends to meet the need for skilled workers for carbon capture deployment in rural Vernon Parish Louisiana. The initiative is a joint effort of Capture Point, a carbon dioxide transport and storage company seeking a project in the area, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, and the Vernon Parish School Board.  

To learn more about the project and what it means to the community, I interviewed with Vernon Travis, who is a member of the Vernon Parish School Board in Louisiana and was involved in putting together the Capturing Better Futures Initiative. Here are excerpts from our conversation.  

Ben Longstreth: What is the Capturing Better Futures Initiative and how did it get started? 

Vernon Travis: I’m going to say this: the Capturing Better Futures Initiative is a game changer for Vernon Parish, Vernon Parish School Board and our entire area. This program is part of the CTE – Career Technical Education program – that is a big priority across the country. For a long time now we’ve known that not every kid is college bound and we have left behind a lot of kids because we didn’t focus on career readiness. And that’s what this program brings; we’re going to train students in a skill set that will make them marketable anywhere in the country.  

BL: Who are the partners and what are their respective roles? 

 VT: Well, I call it the trinity of the Capturing Better Futures Initiative because you have Capture Point Solutions and the UA, United Association, the union of pipe fitters, plumbers, sprinkler fitters and steam fitters. And then there is the Vernon Parish School board. 

In this project, Capture Point Solutions has a mission and that is the capturing of carbon and sequestration. Well, if you’re going to sequester it, you will need a means of injecting and transporting the CO2, which requires building wells and pipelines.  And the UA, the Union, has the skills needed to construct both wells and pipelines.  And then the great old Vernon Parish School Board and we have what I call the human capital.  To achieve the mission the commonality between the partners is the students. 

BL: What do you think students can get from participating in the program? 

VT: As I stood at that podium [at the program inauguration ceremony], I looked in these students’ faces and I saw hope. I looked in their parents’ faces and I saw dreams. 

Now we are not just offering these students a diploma. We are offering them a career. We are offering them a future. 

I heard parents talking to their kids and they understand what the program is about and what the benefits can be. What we’re giving the students is a trajectory to success. That’s what this program is all about. 

BL: What do you think this means for the Vernon Parrish community at large? 

VT: We are driving the first spikes for the bridge to the future and we’re building a bridge to the future of these kids as well as for Vernon Parish. It starts with a workforce.  
This is the blueprint for community engagement: First, you must conduct an assessment of the needs of the community. 

As an elected official, I always get input and buy in from other elected officials, community leaders, and go to the churches and talk with members and pastors.  

Once you get those needs figured out, then you establish who you can best partner with. 

Partnering is about cooperation, it’s about collaboration, and it’s about commonality.  

Let’s start with Capture Point Solutions: it is covering transportation costs, supplies, basic equipment, drafting tables, funds for administrative costs and things like that. The United Association is bringing in all the tools, and they’re refurbishing our old woodworking shop and turning it into a welding lab. They will have 15 welding stations plus all the required safety equipment.  

These kids think: “I’m going to be welding.” But I think they’re going to know the true impact of this project when the CO2 starts to flow through those pipes and the atmosphere starts to get a little cleaner and a little cleaner. 

Is this project going to fix the world?  No, but it’s a starting point and once you get it started you can do more. 

BL: Thank you for sharing more about this collaboration. We are looking forward to learning more as it progresses! 

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