The whirring of portable fans and the clank of metal clasps punctuate the warm air in a South Louisiana Community College workshop in New Iberia as Anthony Venson, an engineer who was laid off from Superior Derrick Services in December because of the struggling economy, takes a break between scaffolding skill final assessments.
At 56 years old, Venson is one of several recently laid-off workers who enrolled in SLCC’s 80-hour scaffolding program during the first semester in which it was offered. In four weeks, students enrolled in the course learn four types of basic access industrial scaffolding (they learn to build the temporary structures and do construction work from them) and are promised opportunities for employment after they graduate, as well as a tool belt that would otherwise cost $500.
However, the skill is simply a stepping stone to something more significant for many students.
From job fairs hosted by organizations from Lafayette Economic Development Authority to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, SLCC is the latest party to join the fray in helping laid-off oil and gas workers bounce back after oil prices fell to a six-year low.
“I’m looking for something temporary until the economy springs back,” Venson says. “This has small introductory training required in order to have a new job.”
Timothy Bates, 26, a 2014 UL Lafayette graduate, was without a steady job after being laid off in May of 2015. In March, he was hired by Westgate LLC after speaking with a representative at the Industrial Trades Career Fair in Lafayette. According to Thomas Vinet, the representative Bates spoke with, Bates was one of more than 1,000 people he spoke with during the fair.
“It was very populated,” says Bates. “I was talking to a lot of people from different companies. They didn’t realize it was going to be that many people ... [The company representatives] were kind of shocked as well.”
SLCC representatives were also in attendance to search for students and prospective instructors interested in the college’s new scaffolding program.
Coordinated with the Industrial Scaffolding Committee, a group of leaders in contracting who set training and certification standards, the two-to-four-week scaffolding program was this year added to the list of certification programs at the college, which includes commercial vehicle operation, introduction to welding and hydrogen sulfide certification.
“I went to a job fair back in February, and SLCC had one of those booths set up there,” says Charles Ozenne, 53, who enrolled in the class. “I was asking if they were doing any training through the construction industry, and they said they were getting stuff together.”
Safway Group, Excel Modular Scaffold, Brock, Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services and Turner Industries, five of the seven corporations that are part of the Industrial Scaffolding Committee, agreed to hire program graduates. According to Jermaine Ford, director of Corporate College at SLCC, all of the graduates had the ability to begin working in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles after completing their certification.
“They could literally work 365 days a year if they wanted to because there’s that much work for certified scaffolders,” says Ford.
The ISC predicts that there will be 5,000 positions available in South Louisiana.
Applications for the program are available on Acadianaopportunity.com, a website created by the state government, LEDA and other organizations such as One Acadiana. According to Ford, a representative from the program will reach out to applicants in 24-48 hours after applying.“It’s equipping you in order to be able to do something other than just being a scaffold builder. You can actually be able to move up into advisory positions,” says Venson.
“We’ve got a lot of guys here in their 50s and late 60s,” says Rhonda Hebert, a scaffolding instructor. “They’ve been out of school for a while, and now they’re having to jump back in because of the downturn in the industries. They’re appreciative because now they’re getting the math. It’s not a matter of, ‘Here’s the pieces; put it together.’ You now gotta calculate what’s needed.”
According to Hebert, the companies will interchange workers as contracts are completed.
“They’re going to keep these guys working by sharing them,” says Hebert. “It’s actually a savings for the companies because when they hire, they have to do drug screening, background checks, physicals. It gets costly, especially when you have high turnover because of the slowdown.”
Hebert says the scaffolding program is just the beginning of SLCC’s plan to expand its current offerings, modeling the programs after those offered by River Parishes Community College.
“[River Parishes Community College] already incorporated this huge crane program. We have the property and facilities to do it here, but we’re just starting with scaffolding,” Hebert says.