Last Modified: Thursday, December 05, 2013 9:26 PM
Business and community leaders on Thursday announced the release of a book that will help them guide young adults toward construction and labor jobs with the region’s expanding industries.
The Southwest Louisiana Workforce Resource Guide is a 72-page, step-by-step overview of the skills and education that people must attain to be considered for labor work at a petrochemical plant. The guide is the result of a five-month collaborative effort of Sasol, the Calcasieu Business & Career Solutions Center and the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.
Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said the guide is a way for community leaders to help local people take advantage of the job opportunities that will be created at area plants in the coming years.
“I would not have the job that I have today and probably would not have had any of the jobs that I’ve had in my career were it not for the help of some other people to get me where I wanted to go,” he said. “I think we need to look at this resource guide in a very similar way. There are those persons here in our community who are interested in taking advantage of the opportunity, but they need a little help.”
Local business leaders said the guide is aimed at young adults who did not finish high school or lack the work skills that lead to employment.
“There are people out there who can’t read who are going to need someone to walk them through this,” said Michael Hayes, public affairs manager for U.S. megaprojects at Sasol, which sponsored the guide’s publication. “There are people out there who don’t understand why it’s important to show up for work on time.”
The guide’s initial 5,000 copies will be disseminated to business and community offices throughout Calcasieu Parish, including the SEED Center, the Business and Career Solutions Center, the Calcasieu Parish Human Services Department, Sowela Technical Community College, and Associated Builders and Contractors’ Pelican Chapter.
The guide will also be sent to all parish libraries. An additional 100 copies, published in three-ring binders, will be sent to the region’s spiritual and business leaders in an effort to launch a communitywide training program.
“The guide is intended to go to community leaders at the grassroots level to be able to sit down and say, ‘We see a person here who is struggling, who’s a good person, who’s working hard today but just can’t seem to get ahead,’” said R.B. Smith, vice president of workforce development at the alliance.
The guide outlines six steps to becoming an industry laborer:
• Get your high school diploma.
• Make sure you have the basic life skills.
• Select a craft, skill or profession.
• Get the certification or associate degree.
• Build a resume and sharpen your interview skills.
• Apply for the job.
Each of the guide’s steps is described in detail, providing readers with information on tuition costs, salary ranges, community resources and certification requirements.
The guide also lists contact information and scholarships and support services, and it provides tips on resume building and job interviewing.
The academic credentials listed in the guide range from a two-hour course to a two- to three-year curriculum, said Kim Cusimano, an associate at Harris DeVille and Associates, the Baton Rouge-based firm Sasol hired to coordinate and publish the guide.
“One of the things we tried to do throughout this process was to demystify some of these surprises that come out as people try to get a job with industry,” Cusimano said. “One of those things is that if you don’t have any on-the-job plant experience, you’re going to have to enter at a laborer-type position or helper to gain that type of experience. You’re probably going to have to work shift work and weekend shifts for these plant jobs.”
Business leaders said they hope the guide will grow a workforce pipeline, preparing local workers for Southwest Louisiana’s industry hiring boom in the next few years. The guide’s announcement comes just five weeks after the Stepping Up! conference, where more than 450 business and political leaders from across the state discussed the need for a grassroots effort to address the region’s workforce development challenges.
Smith said the guide is the beginning of that effort.
“Yes, Sasol is going to hire a lot of people, but they’re not the first ones to hire; it’s going to be the contractors who will build these facilities,” he said. “We know there’s about a 20 percent group in that group that’s going to be the laborer/helper ranks that will need to be filled. That’s the group of workers who we want to try to put as many of our unemployed or underemployed people trained up to the point so they can step into those jobs.”
The guide’s publication will be followed by a regionwide effort to train local ambassadors to meet with constituents at the Business & Career Solutions Center in Lake Charles. Ambassadors will schedule a basic life skills class with constituents and help those who need to prepare for the HiSET, the state’s new GED program.
Resource guide orientation classes will be held at the career center and in libraries throughout Calcasieu Parish. Each class is expected to run about 30 minutes. Scheduling for them will be provided in the coming weeks, Cusimano said.
Hayes said additional copies of the guide will be printed as the need increases in the community.
“We’re trying to identify pathways for everyone who is not in the workforce to get back into the workforce,” he said. “The intent of this guide is not to change that (pipeline) but to give those who are outside that process an opportunity to get into the pipeline.”
Local activist Charlie Atherton, however, said he wants industries to make a commitment to hire a certain percentage of local workers, particularly those trained at local trade schools like Sowela. He asked Hayes if Sasol would make such a commitment.
“Sasol has already identified an experience gap,” Atherton said. “So it would certainly help recruitment for the skills, for the high-paying jobs, if there was some commitment, not only from Sasol but the (other plants) following you, if you could guarantee that there’s going to be 2,500 to 3,000 helper jobs that are guaranteed for somebody in the parish area to get. That would help not only the parents to encourage the students but get the students encouraged that they know for a fact there’s so many helper jobs that’s going to close that experience gap for the graduates of Sowela or wherever they get their certification.”
Hayes said such a commitment was unnecessary.
“If we have a project, we’re going to have to have a certain number of those certified people and then we’re going to have to have a certain number of those helpers who will, in the course of their employment, be the apprentices and the craftsmen,” Hayes said. “If we get the project, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there are going to be those jobs available.”
For more information on the guide can call R.B Smith at the alliance at 433-3632.