[StBernard] Refinery worker shortfall swells Nunez enrollment

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Nov 13 22:32:27 EST 2006

Refinery worker shortfall swells Nunez enrollment
by Stephen Maloney

Nunez Community College is surrounded by industrial plants. Cloud-like puffs
of smoke billowing from towers are constant visual reminders of the
industrial backbone of the parish, home to two oil production facilities and
several other production plants, including Domino Sugar, the second-largest
sugar processor in the world.
Each plant requires scores of qualified workers for maintenance, production
and oversight. Close to three-quarters of those jobs are filled by baby
boomers nearing retirement, and refinery chiefs are scrambling to find

In St. Bernard Parish, where the population has dropped from nearly 70,000
before Hurricane Katrina to about 25,000 now, according to U.S. Census
Bureau estimates, a skilled work force is hard to come by. That's where
Nunez's new industrial technology program comes in.

By training workers for high-paying jobs, the process technology program is
stimulating St. Bernard's economy and giving residents a reason to stay
after earning their degree.

"What this program does is give a 29-year-old kid, who didn't attend college
for whatever reason, a second chance at life that he might not otherwise
have," Program Manager Larry Goodwin said. "A lot of these jobs start out at
$55,000 a year with benefits. Where else are you going to find that? There's
a lot of talk about saving the future generations but I see this as a chance
to save the current generation."

The Nunez PTEC, short for process technology, program is one of only six in
Louisiana, the other five being at Louisiana Technical College River Parish,
LTC Sorrento, Sowela Community and Technical College, McNeese State
University and the Baton Rouge Community College. The Nunez PTEC program
began 72 hours before Katrina made landfall after making an impressive
start. Sixty-one students had already signed up, more than the other PTEC
schools managed to enroll their inaugural semesters.

Six local industries, including Domino Sugar, Air Products, ConocoPhilips,
Entergy, Murphy Oil and Chalmette Refining, the main impetus behind the
formation of the program, were all on board and ready for a flood of
qualified workers to head their way.

Then Katrina hit. Ten feet of floodwater soaked Nunez's campus, destroying
every piece of equipment in the new PTEC training lab. When the program
resumed in January, enrollment was cut in half.

"Our first semester back we had 30 students," Goodwin said. "For the fall
semester we were up to 70. In the spring, we will have our first graduating
class and we expect more than 100 students to sign up."

The student interest is a tribute to the importance of the program, said
Nunez Chancellor Tommy Warner.

"This program is very important to the school and very important to the
area," he said. "Nunez is ringed by processors, and they all need trained

Chalmette Refining requires roughly half of its 620-member work force to
have PTEC training, said plant manager Albert Stroink.

At least 60 percent of applicants at the refinery do not make it through
in-house training programs because they are ill prepared, Stroink said.

"There's a strong need for well educated PTEC operators, not only at our
refinery but industrywide," Stroink said. "There is a shortage of these
people and the people we do get are at a low-skill level."

Refinery officials worked with Nunez administrators and representatives from
the refineries to create a board to oversee the program. The result is a
rigorous two-year PTEC program designed to exceed basic operator training
standards and new employee requirements, offering students hands-on training
during semester-long internships at the refineries.

According to the American Chemical Society, nearly 700,000 process
technicians are employed in the chemical process/petroleum refinery
industries nationwide. By the year 2020, the ACA predicts a shortage of up
to 10 million PTEC workers, making the education of new process technicians

"We have agreements with each one of our industrial partners that they will
hire our students when they graduate," Goodwin said. "This is a working
degree. As soon as you get it, you will go to work."

The industries have supplied scholarships to PTEC students, in some cases
paying 100 percent of the cost of $869 per semester tuition.

More than $1 million in grants and donations were also collected to purchase
new equipment for the training lab.

When Goodwin couldn't find equipment to fit his needs, he made his own.

"I've got 38 years of experience in this business, so I know what they're
looking for," he said. "We've developed seven dynamic acrylic models for
this program that we are going to license so other schools can use them."

The clear plastic models, along with life-size mockups of refinery work
stations such as the custom built hose connection trainer and pipe flange
trainer, have been met with enthusiasm from industry leaders who have toured
the training lab, Goodwin said.

Flanges create a connection between two pipes and are found in thousands of
industrial settings.

"Eighty percent of fires in oil refineries occur in a flange. What this
trainer does is decrease the possibility of those fires occurring through
recognition of the system," Goodwin said. "When people from the factories
come in here, they point right to that and say 'This is what I want you
teaching people.'"

For all his dedication, hard work and foresight, Goodwin was named a
finalist for national PTEC educator of the year by the Center for the
Advancement of Process Technology, and received the Alden Andre award, the
state's highest honor for a PTEC instructor.

"This concept is five to 10 years ahead of its time," Goodwin said. "There
has been a need for years but no one has been addressing it in this area
until now.".

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