Skilled workers in short supply

Earl Meador, South Central Louisiana Technical College director

I do not know of a shipyard or fabrication yard in this area that is not hiring right now.”
By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

Despite the shutdown of operations at the McDermott Shipyard last year, skilled workers are in short supply with a high demand for the foreseeable future, said a Morgan City employment staffing agency representative.
“There is a local shortage of trained workers,” Francis Guerrero, vice-president of operations at Permanent Workers, said. “I do not know of a shipyard or fabrication yard in this area that is not hiring right now.”
He said most of the 150-plus workers his company placed last year are usually paid $18 to $21 per hour.
South Central Louisiana Technical College continues to partner with industry employers to tailor their training programs to the needs of the local industries, Earl Meador, college director, said.
“We are hearing that employers are desperate for workers,” Meador said. “We are working with them to develop training in the skills they need. We are also trying a new version of training that utilizes two five-week segments.”
St. Mary Parish falls in the region south of I-10 that is forecast to see much of the state’s growth in employment in the next two years, according to the forecast prepared by Loren C. Scott, LSU professor emeritus in economics, and Jim Richardson, the John Rhea Alumni Professor of Economics at LSU.
Louisiana is one of only 12 states in the U.S. with more people employed today than in January 2008 and the numbers will only get better with employment surpassing the 2 million mark in 2015 for the first time in the state’s history, Scott and Richardson’s report said.
The report predicts the job growth will be spurred by oil exploration, which suits the St. Mary Parish economy that is tilted heavily toward shipbuilding and servicing the industry.
Swiftships in Morgan City increased its workforce about 40 percent last year to 200 employees, according to director of operations Terry Dover. He expects a similar employment increase for next year.
“We have been busy supporting the oilfield industry with crew boats and supply boats. This could be a two- or three-year trend, maybe longer than that,” Dover said.
Major new hiring will occur at the Edison Chouest and Bollinger shipyards, Guerrero said. The LSU report predicts substantial hiring at those and other shipyards.
“We anticipate an increased number of job placements with some workers in St. Mary Parish and a lot of those workers going to Houma, Larose and Panama City, Fla.
St. Mary Parish is sandwiched between Lafayette and Houma-Thibodaux metropolitan regions that are expected to add nearly 10,000 jobs by 2015, according to the LSU economic report.
The parish will ride the coattails of that job growth and that job market has already begun to open up, according to Frank Fink, parish economic development director.
The job growth comes with a caveat. Most of the need is expected to be in skilled trades, Guerrero said.
“If somebody comes in here looking for work but they are not already trained, I encourage them to get some type of training at a technical college and I tell people there is a program for that right here,” Guerrero said.
A strong demand for skilled workers in a region that has an available workforce that is not always skilled poses a challenge the parish is ready to meet, Fink said.
“It is a good boat to be in with a demand for workers but a bad boat to be in when they are not trained,” Fink said. “We are not alone. This is the dilemma across south Louisiana. But, we have a leg up with the technical college, which is now offering programs in the high schools.”
Meador said the opportunity is in today’s market and the training can be in tomorrow’s classrooms.
“The only way we are going to solve the job problem is in recruiting people at all levels — the unemployed, the underemployed and even those still in high school,” Meador said.
Fink said getting high-school students into well-paying jobs is made easier with programs in the high schools and with the new training program at the technical college, which after five weeks almost assures someone a job.
“This gives us a leg up with ambitious young folks that want a career in a good-paying job here at home,” Fink said.
The elephant in the room that could change this rosy picture is the National Flood Insurance Program, which, without modification, could scare off investment, the LSU report stated.
“A looming uncertainty that could have catastrophic consequences is the possible implementation of the new National Flood Insurance Program. All bets are off for Houma if modifications are not made,” the LSU report said.
“We cast a wary eye toward three key issues in the state’s future: how much money will be pumped into our economy via BP payments; will the new National Flood Insurance Program be restrained or fully implemented; and what will be the impact of the sequester and other cuts to the Defense Department budget on the state’s substantial military presence?” Scott said in the report.

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