For centuries, Louisiana residents working on the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River have built a robust maritime sector with companies forging construction and maintenance services for commercial and military vessels.
Now, innovative workforce training programs at Delgado Community College in New Orleans and South Central Louisiana Technical College (SCLTC) in Morgan City are equipping a new generation of workers to support the industry’s evolution in the state.
Working with Bollinger Shipyards, SCLTC recently launched a 10-week boot camp for prospective shipfitters addressing a specific shortage of maritime specialists in the industry. The dearth of shipfitters impacted Bollinger, a leader in the fabrication, repair and conversion of a wide variety of military and commercial offshore and inland vessels. The 67-year old Lockport, La., company currently operates 10 shipyards throughout South Louisiana and Texas.
SCLTC Director Earl Meador said the shipfitter boot camp fits individuals in Louisiana and around the country who may have no skills in the maritime industry, but who want to enter the field. Bollinger hired graduates from the inaugural class and will continue to do so as classes continue, Meador said. The boot camp trains workers to lay and fi t pipe during a vessel’s construction or repair process — a critical step that precedes welding.
“Within a few weeks, students understand what it takes to work as a shipfitter and, more importantly, they can see a job at the end of the boot camp,” Meador said. “This changes lives and fills an important workforce need.”
At Delgado Community College, a program is under way that builds on the institution’s impressive shipbuilding legacy. The school’s main campus in New Orleans’ City Park once produced a workforce of more than 20,000 workers who built the legendary Higgins Landing Craft as well as PT boats and other craft that were instrumental in winning World War II. Throughout the 20th century, workers were trained in the Delgado Apprentice School Program to support military craft construction at the Avondale Shipyard in the New Orleans area.
The U.S. Navy is investing $10 million to maintain and expand the Delgado Apprentice School Program’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum in order to recruit new workers — including veterans — into advanced manufacturing.
The Navy’s investment focuses on curriculum expansion, but additional funding of $11 million from the State of Louisiana and private sources will allow for the physical transformation of the existing facility into a 66,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence that supports not just shipbuilding, but a variety of other industries. “What’s happened here shows how nimble the region is, and how diverse the regional economy is,” says Delgado Community College Chancellor Monty Sullivan. “This new partnership allows Louisiana to expand our advanced manufacturing workforce pool, which helps a growing number of businesses flourish.”