employment growth

Local oilfield service company adds 150 workers

Two major contracts in the Gulf of Mexico have prompted a local oilfield-service company to hire 150 new workers, officials said today.

Danos, based in Gray, says it has secured a contract to provide production workers to Equinor’s Titan platform, which operates in nearly 4,000 feet of water about 60 miles southeast of the offshore service hub at Port Fourchon.

The project, which began late last year, is Danos’ second with Equinor after it was awarded a contract for coatings maintenance on the Titan platform in the fall.

“Danos is excited for the opportunity to work with a high-performing company like Equinor,” owner Paul Danos said in a news release. “Securing and executing the details of the contract has been a true team effort, and we look forward to continuing our commitment to customer service and excellence.”

The company has also been awarded a multi-year contract for production operations with another major oil and gas producer in the Gulf, though company officials would not discuss specifics.

Danos has increased its production workforce by about 150 new employees as a result of the contracts. Most of the new positions are production operators who will be working on the Gulf Coast, with projects spanning from Galveston, Texas, to Venice, La.

“Danos’ ability to provide a recruiting and retention model for competent and skilled workers heavily influenced both contracts,” Danos said. “I commend Danos’ operations team, as well as our human resources team who worked closely with our customers’ operations and procurement teams to make both projects possible.”

Danos, which employs about 2,200 people, is the largest private employer in Terrebonne Parish.

Equinor, based in Norway with U.S. headquarters in Houston, owns 100 percent of the Titan operation and part of 10 others in the Gulf. Its operations there produce about 100,000 barrels of oil per day, and the company says planned growth will make it the fifth-largest producer in the Gulf by 2020.

-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or keith.magill@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierEditor.

Ochsner ups its lowest hourly wage to $12

Ochsner says its recent decision to raise its lowest wage from $8.10 to $12 per hour on Jan. 20 is based on its recent growth and wanting to “make a meaningful impact on a broad employee population.”

What remains to be seen is how other businesses in the economy will respond in the increasing competition for lower-wage workers.

Ochsner’s announced increase follows a 2017 human resources assessment that led to recommendations on programs and changes to “improve the overall financial well-being of our employees,” said Tracy Shiro, Ochsner’s senior vice president for human resources.

“Although Ochsner was already well above the current minimum wage, we wanted to do more. People are our most important asset. All jobs across the system — no matter how big or small — play a role in patient care and it is important to recognize that,” Shiro said.

Among more than 1,200 part- and full-time employees statewide to earn more next year are medical assistants, environmental service aides, patient care technicians and patient escorts. Among its sites, the company operates Ochsner St. Anne Hospital in Raceland and Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma.

The healthcare industry and its hospitals and clinics depend on a large pool of people to operate efficiently, said LSU economist James Richardson.

“Obviously, they felt that $12 was good number for them in terms of recruiting and maintaining people in those jobs that are very critical in a hospital setting, because hospitals are very labor dominated,” he said.

But what Richardson describes as “an internal decision” by Louisiana’s largest private employer could add wage pressure on companies and businesses in other service-oriented industries, such as hospitality and leisure, as competition and compensation for lower-wage workers has increased.

“The big, interesting part of it is that because they are such a big employer, particularly in the New Orleans area, it will seep over and have an impact on other industries. It will probably make hotels reconsider a little bit, and restaurants and maybe retail places. It will perhaps nudge them to ask themselves whether they are going to be competitive,” Richardson said.

The main benefit to Ochsner will be in retaining lower-wage workers, a problem facing large and small businesses across the economy, said Walter Lane, a healthcare economist at the University of New Orleans.

“These workers can work at any company. The problem is holding on to them. This should reduce some turnover,” Lane said.

In the last couple of years, several hospital systems across the country have announced similar wage floor increases. And Lane thinks Ochsner views itself as not just in competition locally, but nationally as well.

“They want to be one of the big guys. They are still far from that in terms of revenue, but I think when they see other hospital systems do it, that may be some small pressure on them,” Lane said, adding that Ochsner has been “very successful” and that he believes it genuinely wanted to share that with its employees.

Still, the current economic environment and expectations for that environment are always primary factors in any business decision, economists say.

Ochsner’s move comes amid historically low unemployment nationwide and a flattening labor force participation rate, which refers to the total number of people employed or in search of a job.

While Louisiana’s 5 percent unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation, labor economists consider it low by historical standards. And the state’s labor force participation rate has consistently trailed the national rate, which stood at 62.9 percent in November.

The participation rate is important to overall economic productivity, and since peaking in early 2000 has declined primarily due to an aging population. But other factors include more young adults in school and more people wanting to be stay-at-home parents, researchers say.

The unemployment rate for less-skilled and less-educated workers has also fallen significantly.

The national jobless rate for workers 25 years old or older without a high school diploma dropped from 7.7 percent in November 2016 to 5.4 percent in November 2018, while the rate dropped from 4.7 percent to 3.3 percent for workers with a high school diploma but no college over the same period.

The tight labor market has placed pressure on companies and businesses to raise wages. But, generally speaking, they have been reluctant to do so.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s summary of regional economic activity, known as the beige book, said in September that its business contacts were continuing to see hiring challenges, “especially for low-skilled and hourly positions.” But firms were focused on other ways to recruit, retain and reward workers — offering flexible schedules, bonuses, profit-sharing and other incentive pay programs that could be discontinued in a downturn.

“Once you make a wage increase, it is hard to pull that back,” Richardson said. “Maybe you can reduce the number of people you employ, but you can’t really pull that wage back down very easily at all. So, I think companies are very cautious in doing this. We have low unemployment now, but how long is it going to last?”

The recent uptick in wages has also been attributed to states and cities setting minimum wage increases and some large private companies raising pay for their lowest paid workers, adding to inflationary pressures.

In 2018, 18 states increased their minimum wages under previously enacted legislation or ballot initiatives and now 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal rate.

And recent announcements by large national firms such as Amazon increasing starting wages at the lower end of the pay scale “have created broad pressure to raise pay ... across the region,” particularly among hospitality and retail employers, according to the Atlanta Fed’s December beige book.

Yet despite the pressure, industries vary in their capacity to raise wages. While Louisiana’s healthcare and hospitality industries are relatively strong, “other industries in the state are not quite as robust as they are in other parts of the country,” Richardson said.

And the fact that workers typically do not relocate for lower-wage jobs could also dampen any ripple effect from Ochsner’s decision. “If you are merely trying to increase jobs at a hotel, you are going to have a hard time trying to move people in from outside the area at that lower wage,” Richardson said.

Louisiana has not adopted a state minimum wage. It follows the $7.25 federal minimum set in 2009. Many businesses pay more to their lowest wage workers. The median hourly wage in the state is $15.62.

About 3.6 percent of hourly workers in Louisiana -- 39,000 workers, including exempt, tipped employees -- earned an hourly wage at or below the federal minimum in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

By Michael Joe / New Orleans City Business

Schools using test to indicate level of soft skills

HOUMA -- Are you struggling to hire entry-level employees who can show up on time and can be a trained?

The Terrebonne Parish School District is using a tool that can aid in reassuring you that the application of that high-school student or recent graduate you’re holding might be good fit for your company.

It’s the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) test, and it’s given to all students who are on Jump Start Career Pathway tracks, some upper level English students and is available to any student who scores a 21 or less on the ACT. Educators say that’s approximately 50 percent of the high-school population, and TPSD covers the cost for students.

Though WorkKeys testing students can earn certifications in Applied Math, Graphic Literacy and/or Workplace Documents on four levels – bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The credentials verify skills proficiency in

• problem solving

• critical thinking

• reading and using work-related text

• applying information from workplace documents and mathematical reasoning to solve problems

• locating, synthesizing and applying information presented graphically, and

• comparing, summarizing and analyzing information presented in multiple graphics.

For example, with a gold Applied Math certificate, students demonstrate their ability to solve problems using mathematical operations with mixed units, identify where a mistake occurred in calculations, calculate percentages and use it to determine a discount, markup or tax, convert between units of measurement, and other skills.

A gold Graphic Literacy certificate indicates students can locate information in a graphic using information found in another graphic, identify a trend/pattern/relationship and justify a decision based on information, among other skills.

Regarding Workplace Documents, a gold certificate indicates the ability to infer meanings of words or phrases from context, apply instructions to a new situation similar to the one described in a document while considering changing conditions and make inferences to accomplish a goal.

Why is this valuable to businesses? These areas indicate students’ strength in using mathematical reasoning and problem-solving techniques to solve work-related problems; graphs, charts, tables, floor plans and instrument gauges; and written text to do a job. The higher the score on the WorkKeys assessment (on a scale of 3 to 7), the greater the ability.

WorkKeys certificates are tools that can help employers better align their new hires’ skills with those needed for a job. That translates into a better-quality hire, shorter training times with greater knowledge retention, reduced turnover, increased performance ratings for skilled workers, improved employee morale and decreased operator error.

How do you know if an applicant has these certifications? Their school counselors have been recommending certifications be listed on resumes, added to job application forms and certificate copies offered to potential employers. Students have also been counseled to make their certificates publicly available so employers to verify them by entering a registration number online at http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/workkeys-for-educators/ncrc.html

Want more information on WorkKeys certificates? Contact Katherine Gilbert-Theriot with Terrebonne Economic Development at 985-873-6890.

CORTEC, L.L.C. wins state award

CORTEC, L.L.C. Founder Bobby Corte, Jr. accepts the Lantern Award from Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson with Stephen Corte (left), Thomas Chauvin and Larry Chauvin on June 5, 2018 at the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge.

CORTEC, L.L.C. Founder Bobby Corte, Jr. accepts the Lantern Award from Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson with Stephen Corte (left), Thomas Chauvin and Larry Chauvin on June 5, 2018 at the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge.

HOUMA, June 4, 2018 – Houma-based CORTEC, LLC, was recently honored for its excellence in manufacturing and outstanding service to the community with the State of Louisiana’s Lantern Award for the Bayou Region.

“Manufacturers drive Louisiana’s economy in the most important ways,” Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson said. “They provide good-paying jobs and have a strong multiplier effect, creating even more jobs outside their facilities. Harnessing our talented workforce, they compete in and win in a global economy as they produce vital products that are in demand by companies and consumers.”

Award nominees are judged on contributions to the community, including investment in employment growth and facility expansion, as well as sustaining and growing operations at least three years prior to the award. The 15-year-old CORTEC is undergoing expansion at both its Port Allen and Houma facilities.

CORTEC’s 156 employees design, manufacture, sell and service valve and manifold products for the oil-and-gas industry through the company’s two divisions: Cortec Fluid Control in Houma and Cortec Manifold Systems in Port Allen. From engineering to assembling, through coating to shipping, CORTEC handles the entire process for quality control. Its valves, chokes and flow-line component products are shipped to the Gulf of Mexico and shale plays in the United States as well as internationally to Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Since launching the Lantern Awards in 1979, LED has recognized more than 300 Louisiana manufacturing businesses with its partners, Louisiana Industrial Development Executives Association and the Louisiana Quality Foundation. Award winners receive lanterns handcrafted and donated by Bevolo Gas and Electric Lights of New Orleans.

This year’s award to CORTEC, L.L.C., continues a family tradition, as the Corte family previously received a Lantern Award when it owned and operated COR-VAL, Inc., founded by Bobby Corte, Sr.