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Engineers needed for upcoming industrial development

Last Modified: Saturday, April 13, 2013 6:04 PM

By Eric Cormier / American Press

With more than $40 billion in industrial development slated for the Lake Area over the next five to 10 years, a lot of focus has been placed on construction work and skilled labor positions.

Professional services — provided by engineers — may seem to be overlooked as a result. But McNeese State University’s Nikos Kiritsis, dean of the engineering college, said the school is revving up its teaching capacity to meet industry needs

The department grew from 380 undergraduates in 2006 to 515 in 2013.

“We supply the market, which is going to have an increased need for electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, civil engineers and chemical engineers,” he said. “I anticipate more engineers to be needed when things are running steady.”

Announcements from companies like Sasol, Magnolia LNG, and Chenier LNG assure Kiritsis and his staff that their students will have opportunities on graduation. The goal in the department is to do more than give students book knowledge.

Kiritsis said the department has an outside laboratory with industrial equipment and tools that provide students with real-world skills.

“What we hope to do is shorten the learning curve between the hiring time of an engineer and when that person becomes fully productive for a company. If we put them out a little more prepared in terms of what industry does, then that learning curve is shorter, which means a savings for industry.”

Engineering students’ college careers can last between four and five years before graduation. Afterward, companies and agencies in the private and government sector want engineers to obtain experience.

Louis D. Leveque, executive vice president and chief operating officer with Levingston Group in Sulphur, said McNeese students must be patient.

“You can’t take them and then throw them to the wolves. They’ve got to be trained. Finishing college means they have the ability to learn. They can do formulas. But leading capital projects for corporations is a lot more involved.”

Leveque said engineers will be needed. He even admits there may even be a shortage.

Engineers across the country suffered during the recession after big business induced cutbacks, leaving thousands of highly trained workers unemployed.

The profession is seeing a resurgence with industrial development. Also, the oil and gas industry is at a juncture with hordes of aged, but skilled, professionals preparing to retire — which will create job openings.

Levingston experienced a record year in business in 2012 as a result of steady growth in the local industrial market.

“A lot of business we get is tied to natural gas. Honestly, I think there will be so many opportunities that a person will be able to pick what they want to do here. It is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and we hope to make the most of it,” Leveque said.

He said the company is seeking experienced engineers from around the country.

That does not bother Kiritsis, who said Leveque’s opinion is a not a slight against local engineering graduates.

“I think there is a need for both (experienced and recent graduates). Graduates right out of school will contribute less than a person with 10 years of experience. An experienced person is going to get the job because certain companies need specific expertise,” he said. “Once production starts and the workforce stabilizes companies will need engineers to run facilities 24 hours a day.”

Kiritsis said internships are going to be essential for engineering students to obtain experience also.

The department will be affected by state cuts to education.

“It is an unfortunate situation that at a time that all off this industry growth is forecasted and happening, support from the state towards higher education has been going down. We terminated our two-year associate programs in technology and will only provide four-year engineering programs,” he said. “Sowela will come in and fill a void, but it would have been nice if industry had a choice from two different institutions instead of someone having a monopoly.”

Students now enrolled in McNeese technology programs will be able to complete their course work, but starting next fall, no new students will be admitted.

Kiritsis encourages high school students to take as many math and science courses as possible before entering college.

“I see a young student that finishes high school in 2013 for instance, starting their education and four or five years from now will have the perfect opportunity to get a engineering job locally,” he said. “Some of these facilities will start some level of production by then. This is the right time to get into the game.”

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