Business, community leaders announce release of SWLA Workforce Resource Guide

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

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.

Online: www.swlaresourceguide.com.

Southwest Louisiana Resource Guide