With more than $26 billion dollars worth of capital projects to be invested within the next decade in Southwest Louisiana, one underlying concern remains — locally, there are not enough trained and experienced construction workers to fill the projected workforce needs. (Brad Puckett / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 11:31 PM
With more than $26 billion dollars worth of capital projects to be invested within the next decade in Southwest Louisiana, one underlying concern remains — locally, there are not enough trained and experienced construction workers to fill the projected workforce needs.
“At the moment, there are not enough people for the jobs,” said R.B Smith, vice president of workforce development at the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.
In 2010, the Louisiana Workforce Commission identified 9,571 construction workers in the five-parish region of Southwest Louisiana. This includes all jobs related to construction work, whether residential, commercial or industrial.
“Not all of these workers will be qualified to work on these large industrial projects,” Smith said.
There is no firm number to mark the shortage of available labor or trades employees, but Smith did say these concerns are typical of most metropolitan areas.
At peak activity, Sempra’s $6 billion liquefied natural gas export facility will bring 3,000 construction jobs — construction is set for 2013. In December 2011, Sasol announced they were studying the feasibility of a $4.5 billion investment. Sasol officials said it expects the study to be completed in the first half of 2013. In September 2011, Sasol announced another feasibility study for a $10 billion gas-to-liquids facility which Gov. Bobby Jindal touted would create new job opportunities. While there are no actual job projections yet, Smith said Sasol would be similar in scope to Sempra and yield thousands of construction jobs. In July 2011, an official for Cheniere Energy said the company plans to spend more than $6 billion to expand its LNG facility in Cameron Parish. At the peak of construction, the site will employ about 3,000 people.
“Each of the announced large capital expansion projects has a staffing model that estimates peak construction workforce exceeding 2,000 employees,” Smith said. “Depending on when each project starts, how it precedes, the skills needed at any particular time and if multiple projects reach their peak needs at the same time, there will be a local shortage of hundreds of people in several craft areas.”
The most prominent job needs will be for welders, pipe fitters, electricians, iron workers and instrumentation technicians.
“These are five major demand areas the plants will need people to work in,” Smith said. “Once the building part is complete, permanent and maintenance positions would be available. There are tons of other jobs like painters and cementers, as well.”
He said this is not a problem, but the realization is that it is important for local construction workers to have the proper training.
“We need to start feeding that pipeline now because it takes years to train for the job,” he said.
Workers inside most of the industries need to be qualified for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, which means they will have background checks and need to be drug-free.
“There are plenty of jobs, but you have to have some skills to match the job,” Smith said. “Optimum for a worker is to have the right skills.”
He said the local training outlets are McNeese State University, Sowela Technical Community College, ABC Welding School and Calcasieu Parish School System.
“We have a great workforce here locally,” Smith said. “They could do more, but they don’t have the skills to move up.”
Smith said people will come from out of state to fill these positions, and this is an opportunity to make a positive economic impact on the area.
“We will be able to do it all, but we need to start now,” he said. “It takes years to train and learn the skills. The challenge is that we need people to step up and learn.”
Smith also mentioned that housing will be a concern but not an issue.
“There is going to be rental opportunities and travel-trailer type parks that can open up to meet these needs,” Smith said.
Smith said the Alliance has yet to see the staffing models for these major projects, but that he would like to get as many local people into those jobs as possible.
“There are billions and billions of dollars in projects in the next five to 10 years,” Smith said. “We need people who are skilled, drug-free and who have a good work ethic. People that want to work because there is going to be plenty of work.”
Renee LeLeux, a public information officer at McNeese State University, said the university has been preparing the local workforce for almost 75 years.
“With new chemical and petrochemical industries moving into Southwest Louisiana and major capital expansions under way at local plants, McNeese graduates are prepared and job-ready for area employers,” LeLeux said. “McNeese offers degrees in engineering with concentrations in chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in engineering technology with concentrations in electronics, instrumentation and process plant technology.”
Among Sowela’s 20 programs are associate of applied science degrees in industrial instrumentation and process technology. Sowela offers technical diplomas in electrical apprentice, industrial electrician, welding and plumbing apprentice.
“Our mission is to meet the needs of our five-parish community and beyond by providing the training that meets industry demands,” said Michael Elam, interim chancellor. “We are enhancing our efforts continually to meet those demands.”
Those efforts involve the direct input of, and participation by, the businesses doing the hiring, Elam said.
“By working closely with program advisory committees made up of industry employers and leaders, Sowela stays abreast of the needs of local industry and can adjust existing programs or develop new programs to meet the workforce needs of Southwest Louisiana,” said Rick Bateman, vice chancellor of academic affairs and student success.
Kirby Bruchhaus, director of education of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Welding, said his school offers training for welders, pipe fitters, electrical technicians, heavy equipment operators and instrumentation technicians.
“We are sponsored by the industry to train people for the industry,” Bruchhaus said. “We’re either training the existing workforce or a new workforce.”
Bruchhaus said there is going to be a “big shortage of workers” for these industries.
“There is nowhere near that many people in the area,” he said.
Roger Creel, director of career and technical education for Calcasieu Parish schools, said the system offers dual credit with high schools and community colleges. Creel said welding and carpentry are the two main areas of focus in its occupational training program.
“Within a year we will be adding electrical, pipe fitting, plumbing and air conditioning,” Creel said.