Industries confront Louisiana’s skilled labor gap


Turner Industries Group, a vendor in heavy industrial construction and vessel fabrication and other specialty services, estimates that over the next two years it will have a shortage of about 12,000 employees at its sites along the Gulf Coast.

Project manager Rodney Landry said the company has had trouble hiring workers with basic technical skills to work as welders, machinists and pipe fitters.

Landry points out that part of the reason there is such a significant drought of skilled workers is the diminished focus on trade labor training at the high school level.

“This has been happening over the past 20 years, and now the people who had those skills are retiring and the employment gap is growing,” Landry said.

His company isn’t alone.

Franck LaBiche, human resources director for Laitram, said the company has had to recruit outside of Louisiana to find workers skilled in the technical trades. The Harahan-based manufacturing company has grown from 1,370 employees globally in 2010 to roughly around 1,800 today, including about 1,000 in Louisiana.

As activity in the energy, manufacturing and industrial sectors continues to increase, companies in Louisiana are having trouble hiring enough skilled employees to keep pace. Several — including Laitram, Turner Industries, Phillips 66, and Barriere Construction — are working with Delgado Community College to develop a new program in industrial maintenance that will train new workers to help close the job gap. Their specific needs include electricians, crane operators, instrument technicians, pipe fitters, welders and machinists.

Landry with Turner Industries believes the situation will only get worse considering that the oil and gas industry could add another 30,000 new technical jobs over the next 10 years.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, in the New Orleans area alone there are currently close to 2,500 job openings in the construction industry, whichincludes positions for welders, crane operators and pipe fitters.

Delgado Chancellor Monty Sullivan said that finding the faculty equipped to teach programs is another factor adding to the worker shortage. The school is specifically seeking retirees from the affected industries with 25 to 30 years of experience and an understanding of the trade to hire as instructors. Currently, Delgado is trying to build its workforce training programs with adjunct faculty who also hold outside jobs.

Funding shortages for community colleges and technical schools, along with a mentality that pushes more students toward four-year programs, has made it difficult to keep trades training programs running, Sullivan said.

“The growth of our regional economy has sneaked up on us a bit,” he said. “…Our resources are limited and we need to continue creating a blend of traditional curriculum and developing programs required by industry.”

Delgado’s approach to specific skills training programs is attracting industry involvement through partnerships that often involve financial backing. The programs also have the potential to improve enrollment numbers as they increase the chances for students to land jobs immediately after graduating or earning certification, Sullivan said.

It’s a model that four-year universities in Louisiana are also applying. General Electric recently teamed with the University of New Orleans to create a training and internship program that will prepare computer science majors for jobs at the GE Finance IT center in downtown New Orleans. Louisiana State University has a similar partnership with IBM.

Greater New Orleans Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht said any industry that wants to develop a talent pipeline can use this approach. The economic development organization has worked with Delgado and UNO on their partnership programs.

“More companies are starting to realize the dual benefits of these programs,” Hecht said. “These companies have to understand what skills they are looking for — intellectual competence, technical or soft skills — to address their employment needs.”

LaBiche said Laitram wanted to partner with Delgado to attract graduating high school students who have not had access to the technical training that was widespread years ago.

“Shop class is a thing of the past, and now we have a whole generation of younger people who aren’t aware these are viable and well-paid careers,” LaBiche said.

Laitram is also working with Southeastern Louisiana University’s Department of Industrial Technology to create an internship program. As of this fall, they have hired five students as interns to work with mentors.

Read the full article here: http://neworleanscitybusiness.com/blog/2013/10/30/industries-confront-louisianas-skilled-labor-gap/