Some 750 job seekers passed through the second annual Industrial Trades Career Fair at the Cajundome on Wednesday, many of them laid off from oil and gas jobs and seeking a new toehold in Louisiana's workforce.
Mike Boudo of Lafayette, with 40 years of welding experience, was one. Boudo said he has been laid off for two years; his eyes scanned the 19 company booths and four service tables set up for the morning-long event.
Were there jobs to be had?
"I've heard that," Boudo said. "But I'm not sure."
Some employers at this year's fair had jobs to offer. In fact, said Ronnie Gulino, director of field services for ISC Constructors, if you had the right certifications as an electrician, landing a job might have been easy.
"It's hard to find a qualified, certified electrician," Gulino said. His company has offices in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Beaumont and Houston. "I've found a few who have some background, good enough to enter the field, but very few who are fully qualified."
Wednesday's event was more than a job fair, though. It was an opportunity for job seekers to get their resumes reviewed, to talk with professionals about how to present themselves and to match their work skills with the right companies or to find paths to new employment.
"We help them see how their skills can transfer elsewhere," said Cortney Boutte-Breaux, who works for the Workforce Board under the Louisiana Workforce Commission. "If a welder is in oil and gas, he or she may need certifications to go to liquefied natural gas.
"What we try to do is retrain their minds. A lot of people have done the same type of work 30 years. We help them see themselves in another industry."
Sometimes, the job they lost is a job no longer available, forcing laid off workers to begin anew.
That means training and certification, which sometimes can be handled in just a few weeks. Jermaine Ford, director of Corporate College at South Louisiana Community College, said at least 60 potential students had registered to receive more information about SLCC training programs, some of which can be accomplished in as little as four weeks. Short-term training, he said, is the "bedrock of getting men and women back to work."
In the Lafayette Metropolitan Statistical Area, getting back to work can be a tough task. The MSA has 6.1 percent unemployment, tied with Hammond for worst unemployment among Louisiana MSAs. The area is heavily dependent upon oil and gas employment. Some 8,300 people in Lafayette have lost oil- and gas-related employment since 2014, when oil prices plunged from more than $100 a barrel to a low of $26 last year.
Boutte-Breaux said laid-off workers oftentimes are discouraged, but job fairs like Wednesday's are designed to polish workers' resumes, help them present themselves effectively to employers and "bring out their strong points."
For many oil and gas workers, she said, there are plenty of strong points.
Troy Phillips of New Iberia said he's less interested in school, more interested in a stable job. Once he's employed, he said, he'll consider additional schooling. He trained as a welder in Morgan City and worked 18 years in that capacity. He said, "We cannot ignore what we know."
"I've been out of work a year and it's really rough," he said.
The Industrial Trades Career Fair was presented by the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, LED FastStart, Louisiana Workforce Commission and One Acadiana. Employers included Bell Helicopter, Dupre Logistics, Louisiana CAT, Primoris Services Corp., and the Army.