100% employment rate careers available, Reserve dean says

Published 12:14 am Saturday, May 13, 2017

RESERVE — There are about 4.6 million people in Louisiana but only 2.3 million in the workforce.

Only about half of those have a 4-year college degree.

There also are many high-paying jobs available in the state that require only a high school diploma (or equivalent) plus some specialized training.

The problem is getting people over the stigma against such jobs.

“We’ve got the jobs and we’ve got the people who can skill up and get those jobs,” said Rudy Gomez, a partner at SSA Consultants. “We just have to put these two things together.”

Rudy Gomez

That’s where Louisiana Calling is stepping in.

The non-profit web portal, louisianacalling.org, was launched by SSA Consultants last year. Still a work in progress (the River Region on the map will be added), the site is part of a plan to help bring job seekers and employers together, as well as erase the long-held perceptions about some “blue collar” careers.

Now called “new collar” careers, these jobs not only offer great salaries and benefits, but don’t require four years of college but just some technical training available at one of the several technical colleges throughout the state.

According to the Louisiana Calling web site, a process technician (PTEC) — one who monitors chemical reactions, inspects operating units, test chemicals and manages production rates and material shipping — could make between $40,000 and $70,500 at one of the local plants with just a 2-year associate degree from a technical college.

Local employers are ready for them.

“If we don’t get St. John residents to train for these jobs, they’re going to go out of state, to places like Oklahoma and Texas to get them,” said Penelope Freeman, Dean of South Central Louisiana Technical College in Reserve, which will change its name to River Parishes Community College in July.

Penelope Freeman

Last week officials from the three River Region governments, public schools and industries signed an agreement designed to increase workforce development in the area.

The goal is to let local high school students, the unemployed and the underemployed know that there are good playing jobs in the region and what is required to get them.

The site then directs those job-seekers to training sites, such as SCLTC.

Freeman said there is an extremely high demand for several professions, who are virtually guaranteed a job right out of the college.

Those include practical nurses, welders, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians, medical assistants and process technicians.

“There’s 100 percent employment for air conditioning and refrigeration technicians,” Freeman said. “We could find jobs for every welder we train. Our medical assistants, 100 percent get jobs. It’s amazing how many jobs are out there.”

Louisianacalling.org is not a job posting site, Gomez said.

“There are several of those,” he said, adding it may evolve into one in the future. There also are plans to regionalize the site.

“Jobs available in Monroe will be different from those available in the River Region,” he said.

Freeman said it’s more targeted to the student who wants to be, say, a diver.

“They can go to the site, read the description, what kind of training is required and say, ‘OK. I want to do this. Where do I go to train?” Freeman said. “Well, we have a diving training program in Morgan City.”

Gomez, who grew up in Luling and worked at several chemical plants in the region, said students know the plants have jobs but don’t know how to get them.

“People don’t know what those jobs are,” he said. “Ask the average person and they can give you three or four when there are literally dozens and dozens, inside jobs, outside jobs, high tech jobs, low tech jobs. We know good jobs are in the plants, but what are those jobs and what education and training is needed to get those jobs?

“In Louisiana, we are really blessed with these types of jobs, but because there’s such a stigma attached to some of those jobs that are really good, good paying jobs, we have a shortage of skilled people. People aren’t looking in that direction because of that perception. That’s the challenge.”