Skilled labor gap confronts Louisiana

The growth of our regional economy has sneaked up on us a bit
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Harahan manufacturing company has had to recruit outside Louisiana for skilled trade workers. The Laitram Corp. isn’t alone in its difficulty finding trained workers for such jobs as electricians and welders.
Turner Industries Group, an industrial construction and vessel fabrication company, expects its Gulf Coast sites to be about 12,000 workers short over the next two years, project manager Rodney Landry said.
One reason, he said, is that high schools have been doing less trade labor training for about 20 years.
“Now the people who had those skills are retiring and the employment gap is growing,” Landry said.
He notes that the oil and gas industry could add 30,000 technical jobs over the coming decade.
According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, there are currently close to 2,500 construction jobs open just in the New Orleans area, including positions for welders, crane operators and pipe fitters.
Laitram and Turner are among companies working with community colleges and universities to train new workers for jobs including crane operators, instrument technicians, pipe fitters, and machinists.
Nor are such programs only for skilled trades. General Electric is teaming with the University of New Orleans on a training and internship program for computer science majors interested in jobs at the GE Finance IT center in downtown New Orleans. Louisiana State University has a similar partnership with IBM.
Difficulties finding qualified teachers also add to the worker shortage, said Delgado Chancellor Monty Sullivan. The school is looking for retired people with 25 to 30 years of experience and an understanding of the trade, and is hiring adjunct faculty who also hold outside jobs.
Money shortages for community colleges and technical schools and a mentality that pushes more students toward four-year programs have 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.”
Industrial partnerships often involve financial backing and can attract students by offering certification and the chance of landing jobs immediately after graduating or earning certification, Sullivan said.
Any industry that wants to develop a talent pipeline can use this approach, said President and CEO Michael Hecht of Greater New Orleans Inc., which 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.”
Laitram is working with Southeastern Louisiana University’s Department of Industrial Technology on an internship program, and has hired five students as interns to work with mentors.
LaBiche said Laitram partnered with Delgado to attract new high school graduates 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.

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