Looking For A Career, Not Just A Job, In New Orleans

WWNOs community engagement project the Listening Post is back with a new episode.

While the service industry looms large for locals looking to make some money, those jobs don’t necessary help people make ends meet, or take care of their families.

With some new industries flexing their muscles in town, some new career options are starting to take hold, but will that mean jobs and leverage for young adults in the city?

We asked folks around town the following questions.

What was your first job and what did you get paid?

What do you do for work now, and how do you feel about it?

What career advice would you give your 18 year old self?

We got a lot of great feedback about peoples careers and lives around this city.

As part of this episode, we got out into the city to see how young adults here are feeling about their career prospects.

We started in the French Quarter, hopping on a city bus with 20 year-old Gentilly resident Cody Watson.

It was around 11:30 pm on a Thursday night, and Cody was heading home from his server job at Bubba Gump shrimp Company. He was still dressed in his uniform.

“Blue jeans, Bubba Gump shirt, and hat with a bottle opener on the bill…”

The number 55 bus was half full, mostly with people dressed in aprons, chef pants, crocs, and other staples of the service industry, one of New Orleans’s main economic engines.

“As a server I get paid 2.13 an hour,” said Cody. “Most of my money is based off tips,” he said.

Cody works 5 days a week during the summer. During the school year, when he’s attending Dillard University, he works around 3 days a week. He was studying nursing. But he said he decided that wasn’t his passion, “just to have a backup plan is really the only reason I’m in school. I’ve always wanted to become an actor.”

As the bus dropped Cody off at his stop near the end of Elysian Fields, he disappeared into the night with his dreams, has hat with the bottle opener, and the $60 in cash he made during his shift.

Brandon Rapp, who is six years older than Watson, a Yale graduate, and a West Bank native, says it’s good to shoot for the stars career wise, but local students like Cody Watson shouldn’t drop career focused majors like nursing just yet. Especially if they stick around New Orleans.

Rapp said there’s a lot of nursing jobs about to come online in town, “23,000 high middle skill job opportunities are going to open in health sciences over the next 10 years.”

Brandon Rapp works for Greater New Orleans Inc.(GNO Inc.), a regional economic development company. His bosses have identified industries, like water management and digital media, that will drive the local economy in the next decade. Rapp said he wants local folks to fill as many of those jobs as possible, “the goal would be to get more people trained in these opportunities, to be successful.”

Rapp says even if somebody is working as a waiter in the French Quarter right now, those soft skills are a good start. It might just take getting some extra training, somewhere like Delgado, to qualify for more career oriented jobs.

“How do they connect into these job opportunities, how should they be thinking about the next 10 years?”

As usual, we wanted to know what’s on the minds of New Orleans residents when it comes to careers. We set up our Listening Posts in New Orleans East, Broad Street, and Central City, and asked people what their first jobs were, how they like their jobs now, and what career advice they’d give to their 18 year old selves.

We also shared our jobs survey with people around town on their cell phones. And we invited a special guest to pick a favorite response.

Jenny Ainsworth lives in the East and just graduated from Warren Easton High School. She finished

Jenny had a few Listening Post text messages she liked. But she said there was one that really caught her eye.

1st job and salary: My first job was as a carhop on roller skates at Sonic Drive-In. I made $5.15 an hour, plus tips.

Current job, and how you feel about it:I’m now a marketing assistant. I like the company I work for, but it’s long hours and I could make more for the work I do.
What career advice you’d give your 18 year-old self?: Money doesn’t make you happy, but it definitely makes life easier. Go to school for something that will pay you what you’re worth so you can live without financial stress.

While Jenny Ainsworth is off and running to a 4-year college, there are other ways for New Orleans kids to start building a career path.

At 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, trainees at Café Reconcile are getting ready for the lunch rush. 27 year old Jeffrey Vannor is leading the charge. Vannor first stepped through Café Reconcile’s doors in 2005. Vannor now trains kids who come through the 11 week program. Café Reconcile is geared towards getting young adults into an internship and hopefully a job in the service industry when they finish.

Vannor has done a real tour of the New Orleans service industry since completing Reconcile’s program. He’s worked at tons of restaurants, and catered at Tulane and the Superdome. He’s always taken his work in the service industry seriously, he said he hasn’t always felt the love back, “a lot of jobs in New Orleans need to just show appreciation for the small workers, the low income workers, the dishwashers, the bus runners, the regular waiters, the people who make it happen.“

But Vannor’s stuck with it. More recently he’s been back where it all started, at Café Reconcile, training new students on the floor. He says a lot of the beginners complain after a few weeks that they can make more money on the street. Vannor said he just tries to lead by example, “I’m walking down the street with the tips I made just from smiling.”

Vannor’s way has paid off. This week he started a new job, NOT in the service industry. He’s the very first alumni coordinator for Cafe Reconcile. A title that comes with a salary.

“It’s a blessing,” he said, “it’s the most I ever made.”

And it comes just in time. Vannor and his girlfriend welcomed a new son last month. He’s excited to keep building his family, and career, right here in New Orleans.