The doers, the builders, the thinkers, the leaders. Those thumbnail job descriptions depict people in the manufacturing industry, where Louisiana has joined national leaders to reinvigorate a sector too often seen as a vestige of the past. Yet, for a still-vital domestic manufacturing scene, the rewards can be handsome for those who prepare.
In Louisiana, manufacturing workers earn 32 percent more, on average, than their service-sector peers. And, there are other rewards.
“More and more women are going into manufacturing,” says Jamie Thibodeaux, a chemist for Sasol, which is building an $11 billion chemical manufacturing expansion near Lake Charles in Southwest Louisiana. “As a young woman, that motivates me to push forward and learn as much as possible. Working in a manufacturing industry gives me financial security. My schedule also allows me time to enjoy the simpler things with close family and friends.”
Along Louisiana’s coastline, David Morgan is a young mechanic for Metal Shark Boats, which manufactures sleek watercraft for the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and other customers.
“I value when people look up to me for guidance and teaching,” Morgan says of his career goals, “so I would like to have my own crew and continue to teach others the knowledge and skills that I have learned. I like that I can take bare material and turn it into something extraordinary.”
The Dreamers, the Doers
In a real sense, Louisiana’s workforce leaders are bottling what Thibodeaux and Morgan have discovered, and unveiling their path of career fulfillment to a new generation of still younger Louisianans. In 2016, Louisiana Economic Development’s signature workforce program – LED FastStart® – collaborated with the National Association of Manufacturing and the Manufacturing Institute to promote that career path.
More than a decade ago, the Manufacturing Institute discovered that a mere 35 percent of parents were encouraging their children to pursue manufacturing careers. A campaign to counter those conceptions was born. The campaign called “Dream It. Do It.,” inspires students from elementary to post-secondary classes to bridge the gap from dreams of a great career to fulfillment of that dream in the manufacturing world.
Preparation is the bridge to that fulfillment. For years, LED FastStart has partnered with expanding employers in Louisiana, helping them address training needs and identifying talented people who are up to the tasks awaiting in new plant operations. In addition to designing and implementing custom plans for manufacturing clients, FastStart has worked steadily to improve Louisiana’s training system. That continual improvement has been applied to community and technical college campuses, research universities, and even to elementary, middle and secondary schools. For the earlier grades, the goal is sparking interest through outreach efforts like the “Dream It. Do It.” campaign.
While Louisiana celebrated National Manufacturing Week in October, LED FastStart and its partners staged 121 presentations, tours, expos and other activities, reaching 3,450 students throughout the state. A permanent website – DreamItDoItLa.com – keeps the manufacturing spark burning yearlong. That website earned the highest platinum honors from the international AVA Digital Awards in January.
Billy McDonald can attest to the importance of igniting early career interest. An industrial designer at Noble Plastics in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, McDonald was asked what he would tell his 16-year-old self about a career in manufacturing.
“Work hard to create objects that make life – and our world – better,” he says. “There will always be a need for that.”
U.S. Bureau of Labor projections show that nearly two out of three jobs in the marketplace don’t require a college degree. Yet the World Economic Forum – in examining the future of jobs – found that by 2020 more than a third of the desired skills for most occupations are skills not yet considered crucial to doing those jobs today.
In a nutshell, continuing education will become increasingly important.
Louisiana recognized this reality when working to attract two of the biggest manufacturing projects in the state’s history. Better opportunities will come with better training.
When LED recruited Benteler Steel/Tube’s two-phase, 1.4 million-square-foot manufacturing center to Shreveport, Louisiana, a cornerstone of that recruitment was laid in the training foundation of the project. The $975 million capital investment in a seamless steel tube mill and steel mini-mill would require 675 highly-trained workers skilled in metal fabrication.
To supply a pool of well-trained talent, the State of Louisiana built a 65,000-square-foot, $22 million Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology at nearby Bossier Parish Community College. Local funding support and company insights about the plant’s technology needs benefited the project. Replicas of the advanced machinery Benteler would be using at its Port of Caddo-Bossier plant were installed at the college training center. As Benteler graduated classes of trainees, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing was being groomed to also benefit other manufacturers in the region who need to provide continued training for the workforce.
Louisiana replicated that success story with a recently opened 67,000-square-foot, $20 million Center of Workforce Excellence at SOWELA Technical Community College in Lake Charles. Like the Bossier advanced manufacturing center, the SOWELA facility is first meeting the training needs for the 500 new, direct jobs that will average $88,000 per year, plus benefits, at Sasol. The massive $11 billion complex will adjoin existing manufacturing and research and development facilities operated for decades by the company and predecessors in Southwest Louisiana.
As the company reinvested for a new generation of advanced manufacturing capabilities, Louisiana leaders recognized the need to reinvest with them.
“This new facility will provide the means to plan, design and deliver the training programs and services to help ensure that our business and industry partners are successful,” says Dr. Neil Aspinwall, chancellor of the SOWELA campus. “Projects such as this prove that Louisiana is very proactive, business-friendly and committed to providing for the economic growth and overall well-being of the state as a whole.”
To spark interest in a new generation of aspiring manufacturers, Louisiana’s workforce leaders recognized the need to provide accelerated programs, and programs that could be accessible to students at a relatively early age.
Manufacturing programs were created at the points of need: first, at community and technical colleges in the state, where campuses possessed the equipment and instructors to get students up to speed quickly; and second, at high school campuses where students eager to enter the workforce could quickly acquire skills through dual-enrollment courses. At the community college and high school campuses, the new generation of manufacturing workers are studying essentially the same things. College participants can attain a C4M, or Certification for Manufacturing, validated through an intensive, semester-long course of study that includes hands-on learning and a final competency-based assessment. Their participation assures them of gaining a job interview with a manufacturing employer upon completion of the C4M program.
In cooperation with the Louisiana Department of Education, the state offers a JumpStart curriculum that culminates in a C4M certification with training in manufacturing tools, equipment, automation, fabrication, process technology and machining. Students may pursue additional certifications in other skills, or test the job market with their initial training.
The programs for aspiring manufacturers are part of a continuum of manufacturing training offered by LED FastStart and its partners, with unique recruiting, screening, hiring and orientation plans that deliver everything from skilled instrument technicians to post-graduate professionals in management.
To complement those custom workforce solutions, the state also offers LouisianaJobConnection.com, a website with advanced job-matching technology that has provided millions of matches for job seekers and Louisiana-based employers since its introduction in 2014.
Great preparation goes into landing a meaningful career in manufacturing; but sometimes all that’s needed to start someone down that path is a spark. Ask Zoe Rusch.
“Keep an open mind,” says the processing engineer at Benteler Steel/Tube in Shreveport, Louisiana. “I never thought a career in manufacturing would be so exciting until I toured a steel plant in school. After that, I knew what I wanted to do.”
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