Katrina survivor pursues Boilermaker career

Jason Scott gets a congratulatory kiss from his wife after graduating from an AFL-CIO-sponsored career education and orientation program.

Building trades’ program connects urban residents to jobs

JASON SCOTT CONSIDERS himself one of New Orleans’ more fortunate survivors. Like tens of thousands who rode out Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he escaped to safety by boat after his home flooded. Although unemployment and despair have gripped much of the population, Scott, now 30, landed a job “flippin’ chicken at KFC for $10 an hour.” He has stayed at that job for nearly a year, hoping something better would come along. And something did.

Scott learned of an AFL-CIO pilot program begun in June 2007 that links Gulf Coast residents to job opportunities in the construction trades. Known as the Gulf Coast Construction Career Center (GCCCC), the program offers three weeks of orientation and instruction. Participants receive $10 an hour while attending classes in mathematics, labor history, tool identification, safety, and other subjects. Representatives from the trades make presentations to inform participants about their unions — and to recruit new members.

Scott, who completed the program October 19, said he was impressed when Noland Landry, the apprentice coordinator for Boilermakers Local 37 (New Orleans), made his presentation. “I understand that the Boilermakers work hard, but the pay is very good,” Scott said. “I don’t have a problem working hard. I want something better than what I have right now. I don’t need a job; I need a career.”

Local 37 BM-ST David Hegeman said the GCCCC program has benefited his lodge’s recruitment program. This “is a good deal for the participants and for us. Nolan Landry, our apprentice coordinator, does a great job of selling what the Boilermakers can offer in terms of a career.” Local 582 (Baton Rouge) BM-ST Danny Blackwell said his local has also received inquiries from program graduates.

The GCCCC program operates out of a small facility borrowed from Ironworkers Local 58. Scott and 12 other participants made up the sixth class to graduate. Three others besides Scott chose to pursue the boilermaker trade; others chose futures as electricians, plumbers, or another trade. To date, the GCCCC has graduated 105 participants. About half are working at a trade; another 25 percent are awaiting work or additional training.

GCCCC instructors make it clear that if the career center graduates are accepted, that is when the hard work really begins. Showing up for work on time is not optional. Drug and alcohol testing is mandatory. There are no illusions about the nature of the work or the penalties for failing to meet the requirements.

Like other graduates, Scott expresses a determination to succeed. “There are things I want to be and do as…a man, as far as my family goes,” he said. “This program gives me an opportunity to better myself.”

At a time when the construction trades face severe manpower shortages, the GCCCC is bringing residents of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast into career fields they might otherwise not have considered. The numbers are small in this pilot program, but the center will soon move into its own facility, where it can expand operations.

The AFL-CIO is hoping the program can be expanded to other cities across the country, said GCCCC Training Director Charles Weatherly. “It really does make sense for any larger city. Where else can union training directors find a [captive audience] who want to become construction workers?”