Work gone, options few: What’s next?

(Photo: LEE CELANO/THE ADVERTISER)

(The Advertiser)– En route to the Lafayette Economic Development Authority job fair last week, Brad Richard got this bad news on the radio: No oil and gas companies were among the 90 employers who’d set up booths at the Cajundome.

“I almost turned around,” he said.

That’s because Richard has held two jobs in the last 35 years, both for oil and gas companies. His last 10 years of employment were spent as a marine dispatcher for Texaco.

Standing amid the Convention Center floor hubbub, surrounded by a portion of the crowd that would include 3,200 job-seekers that day, Richard said he was trying to match the skills he developed in the energy industry to jobs available that day. Law enforcement was seeking dispatchers, he said: Might that work?

Richard was among countless oil and gas workers –— LEDA was unsure how many — who made their way to the Cajundome to find work. For many, the job quest has followed many months on Louisiana’s jobless rolls. And for many, no matter their good intentions, those months have deteriorated into wasted time.

Trying to match those skills

Last week, many lamented that the job skills they’ve honed in long careers in oil and gas are the only skills they possess. Some suggested those skills match few other jobs, and, if they did, available jobs don’t match the pay scales they’ve come to enjoy in the energy industry. What to do?

Mike Tauriac of New Iberia was looking for just about anything last week: fast-food restaurants. He spent 23 years maintaining equipment for Halliburton and was among the 9,000 employees that oil and gas service company laid off in early 2015.

Problem was, Halliburton’s competitors — Baker Hughes and Weatherford and others — have been exercising layoffs of their own. Jobs have been scarce.

Tauriac said he’s been to Houston and back seeking work with no luck. He said he’d try McDonald’s, Burger King, or just about anybody for work. He just wanted work.

Lynn Hebert of St. Martinville worked 14 years for CAD Control Systems in Broussard. He lost his job in the fifth of seven waves of layoffs.

Like Tauriac and others, he said he has “tapped out” his savings since December and has only a couple of months before his benefits run out.

Hebert says he spends his time “doing resumes” and applying for jobs. No bites, not since December. The months pass by.

‘Honey-do’ lists are completed

Those in job lines reflect an unused portion of the workforce, which may number some 12,000 oil and gas employees in Acadiana. That doesn’t count people whose skills are “under used,” those oil and gas professionals who while away the days looking for paying projects.

Some at the job fair talked about “honey-do” lists that are long finished: painting, planting shrubs. In some cases, a spouse is still working, keeping things intact.

Dan Gaspard of Lafayette, an offshore welder, has been out of work for more than a year. It’s the fourth downturn he can count in his four decades in oil and gas. Still, he said, he’s always made a living. But he said he’s never seen anything like this.

He’s never worked outside the industry, but when his benefits elapsed this time, he started delivering meals for restaurants. He has no mortgage on his Lafayette residence; he paid it off during flush times.

Many oilfield friends, he said, have lost their homes and cars. He called a friend recently, he said, and asked what he was doing. Sleeping on the sidewalk, the friend said.

Gaspard says he no longer travels, doesn’t eat out.

“That can get expensive,” he said. For fun, he sings karaoke at a local lounge. He’s getting pretty good.

Richard said he frets over his 10-year-old truck, and watches his gas usage.

“I’ve got to have a purpose to where I go,” he said.

“My wife, bless her heart, she is holding us together,” he said.

Others affected by downturn

John Joiner, a contract hand in the drilling sector, said he and his wife rarely travel or eat out anymore. He’s not worked since August. Now almost 70, he said his family home and car are paid for, which makes him more fortunate than younger workers.

“We believe there are many more who have lost their jobs than we are being told, both directly involved in the oilfield and others whose incomes are not directly derived from the oilfield but are being hurt, nonetheless,” he said.

For example, he said, he asked a jeweler how business was — down 75 percent since the downturn, the jeweler said.

“Two-dollar and under gas may seem like fun,” he wrote us, “but watch the taxes go up on everything to offset the loss.”

LCG: Still some job possibilities

Tina Johnstone, local coordinator for Lafayette Consolidated Government, said energy workers still have hope for employment outside oil and gas. She said the office she heads up — it coordinates with Louisiana Workforce Commission and South Louisiana Community College to help unemployed — said there are jobs available for displaced workers that include diesel driving and scaffolding building.

SLCC offers some training in scaffolding in New Iberia — a class starts Monday — and that job, which pays $15 to $17 an hour, is in demand in Lake Charles. Her office offers networking opportunities and assistance in reconnecting to the job market.

Diesel drivers, she said, sometimes get sign-on bonuses after training. She said those just starting might spend long hours on the road, not unlike those 14-on, 14-off work schedules in the energy industry. But it’s a chance to get training, experience and a future, she said.

She said some office employees have spouses who’ve lost their jobs in oil and gas. They can offer empathy but also some realistic insights: “This is what happened in our family. This is where we are now.”

She said laid-off workers can get help with resumes, with interviewing skills or can simply network with others seeking work. Call 337-262-5601 to find out more.

Hebert said he’s spent “all my life” in oilfield assembly and repair jobs. He said other industries seem reluctant to hire him because they seem to believe he would go back to the oilfield at the first opportunity. So he waits.

“When things get better, they probably will call us back,” he said. “Who knows when that will be?”

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