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Commercial operators recruit military veterans at Louisiana job fair

Mar 5, 2015 02:10 PM
Dave Weathers, right, and Capt. Jose Leonard, left, of American Maritime Officers, discuss commercial job opportunities with Lt. Cmdr. Keith Saffold.

Brian Gauvin

Dave Weathers, right, and Capt. Jose Leonard, left, of American Maritime Officers, discuss commercial job opportunities with Lt. Cmdr. Keith Saffold.

It’s a familiar problem for shipyards and vessel operators, especially along the bustling Gulf Coast: How do you find and retain qualified workers, people you can count on who are willing to learn what they need to learn to help your company thrive?

For Hornbeck Offshore Services, a big part of the solution involves the men and women of the nation’s armed forces — current and former service members looking to transition to careers in the domestic maritime industry. To help make that happen, Hornbeck and many other companies have turned to the Military to Maritime program founded by the American Maritime Partnership (AMP) to bring veterans and marine employers together.

Hornbeck was one of nearly 50 companies, organizations and schools recruiting talent at the Dec. 4 “M2M” career fair, held at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The event drew hundreds of people interested in learning more about opportunities in the marine world.

“It’s been a really great response,” said Cid Paul Arceneaux, fleet recruiting manager for Hornbeck, about halfway through the four-hour fair. “We’ve had three dozen folks come by so far today.”

Arceneaux said the Covington, La.-based company has long recognized that skills acquired during military service translate well to the marine industry. That has proven to be the case even when enlistment doesn’t extend to duty on the water.

“In the military, they teach people how to learn,” Arceneaux said. “They’re used to structure. They have problem-solving skills and are very organized. They have the intangibles, the maturity — more of a well-rounded person because they’ve had that experience. They respect the mariner licensing structure and they understand hierarchy.”

Arceneaux said more than a third of Hornbeck’s employees are veterans and that the company “makes it a point” to cater to the military community. Jobs held by vets at Hornbeck range from vessel maintenance to marine engineering.

“We’re most in need of electronic technical officers,” Arceneaux said.

Hornbeck recruiters Cid Paul Arceneaux, center, and Harvey Shows, right, talk with a visitor.

Brian Gauvin

Another prominent company at the New Orleans event was Edison Chouest Offshore of Cut Off, La., which was participating in its first “M2M” job fair. Previous events have been held in Puerto Rico, Houston and Jacksonville, Fla.

Ron Gross, a recruiter for Edison Chouest, said the company’s staffing needs were similar to those of many other offshore operators.

“We’re always looking for people with electrical skills, electronics skills, shipfitters, pipefitters — people who know how to work and get things done,” he said. “We don’t like to outsource. Gary (company president Gary Chouest) likes veterans, people who can weather the storm. When a problem arises, they’re not going to fall apart. That’s valuable.”

While the unemployment rate for veterans has steadily declined in recent years, more than 720,000 servicemen and servicewomen are still jobless, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among those working to avoid that circumstance is Lt. Cmdr. Keith Saffold, a Coast Guard officer who attended the fair to prepare for life after military service.

Saffold, currently involved with the Coast Guard’s fast-response cutter program at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La., wants to become a chief engineer officer offshore. He talked to exhibitors at the fair about what he needed to do credential-wise to make that happen.

“I told (one recruiter) that I had applied for merchant mariner offshore limited,” Saffold said. “He said I might need unlimited, but I can always go back for more training. Offshore jobs interest me the most because you can live anywhere.”

One veteran attending the fair was not in search of a job. James Z. Carter Sr., chief operating officer and co-founder of Affordable Energy Solutions in Huntsville, Ala., was talking to exhibitors about reducing their carbon footprint.

“My purpose is to validate my business model,” said Carter, a retired Coast Guard marine safety officer. “Are there some energy-efficient technologies that haven’t been applied in the maritime sector? What needs do they have? I think (the fair) is going to be beneficial.”

The AMP scheduled its first “M2M” event of 2015 for Feb. 17 at the Port of Virginia’s Nauticus Half Moone Cruise Center in Norfolk.

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