Major industries pitch local students on best paths to profession

Published 12:15 am Saturday, October 21, 2017

LAPLACE — The inaugural Industry Career Fair, held Thursday at the Norris J. Millet Library in LaPlace and South Central Louisiana Technical College in Reserve, introduced high school students to vocational career options and the benefits of pursuing a two-year degree in today’s economic climate.

Juniors and seniors from West St. John High, East St. John High, Riverside Academy and St. Charles Catholic separated into groups and rotated between booths to watch presentations from the following businesses: Bayou Steel, DuPont, Evonik – Garyville, Kinder Morgan, Marathon Petroleum Company, Nalco Champion, Noranda Alumina and Nucor Steel Louisiana.

East St. John High’s Da’Nai Morgan and West St. John High’s Deja Frank attended this week’s inaugural Industry Career Fair, highlighting options readily available to local high school students.

Industry professionals spoke to students about careers available through their companies, emphasizing becoming a process operator, general mechanic, engineer or quality analyst is an attainable goal with great benefits.

Gordon Taylor, a representative from DuPont, said students can prepare for industry careers by pursuing a community college degree and focusing on process technology, industry technology or mechanical technology.

Christy Ordeneaux of Nalco Champion said some form of postsecondary education is required for hiring, whether it’s in the form of a two-year or four-year degree.

“We encourage students to pursue an educational path, whether it’s a process technology degree or a focus in science,” Ordeneaux said.

The Industry Fair Committee included Jan Herrington, Denise Burrell, Lucien J. Gauff III, Elizabeth Joseph, JoAnn Proctor, Jerry W. Jones Jr. and Trina Smith.

Students such as Riverside Academy junior Mya Conner elected to attend the voluntary event to learn more about various career options.

Conner said she was drawn to Marathon’s pitch and the industry as a whole because entry-level pay starts around $50,000 a year.

Deja Frank, a senior at West St. John High School, is interested in attending a vo-tech school before switching to a four-year university to lessen the financial burden of continuing her education.

She said she was interested in what representatives from Bayou Steel had to say because they presented great opportunities for women.

Planned in collaboration by St. John the Baptist Parish Library system and South Central Louisiana Technical College in Reserve, the Industry Career Fair was intended to make students aware of resources available to them within the River Parishes and encourage them to continue their education post graduation, coordinators said.

JoAnn Proctor, St. John Parish Library supervisor, spearheaded the project.

Having served as an educator for 16 years, Proctor is invested in the future of parish youth and was concerned to learn many of her former students did not pursue postsecondary education.

“I thought to myself, I have to do something,” Proctor said. “I want people to be aware of the technical college and know they have options after high school instead of aimlessly wandering around, not knowing what to do.”

She said the career fair was five months in the making, and it proceeded with help from Lucien J. Gauff III, St. John Parish assessor, and Jerry W. Jones Jr., St. John director of economic development.

Jones said it is important for students to learn of different career options expanding past traditional four-year degrees, noting affordability and economic opportunity play a role in determining the ideal path for each individual.

“We want to increase enrollment and participation in community college,” Jones said. “The cry from teachers is always ‘four-year, four-year, four-year,’ but the economy is geared toward a two-year education.

“A lot of kids pursue a four-year degree, end up in debt, can’t find a job in their field and end up coming back to the two-year programs where they could’ve been from the start.”

The event only represents a small sector of what South Central Louisiana Technical College has to offer, according to Gauff, and he said there are plans to host more career fairs to highlight medical and business occupations. He is thankful for the support the St. John Sheriff’s Office and parish government officials have shown, allowing events such as these to happen.

The career fair also familiarized students with the central library branch so they can take advantage of educational resources including homework help, free Internet access, resume building and scholarship databases.