About 2,700 job seekers packed the Cajundome Convention Center on Tuesday, where dozens of Louisiana employers with vacancies to fill awaited them at the Lafayette Economic Development Authority’s 20th annual Job Fair.
Ryan LaGrange, LEDA workforce development manager, said more locals are unemployed this year and are looking for work. He said LEDA figures show Lafayette’s unemployment rate is 5.4 percent, up 2 percent compared with 2014’s rate.
LaGrange said 111 employers manned booths at the fair, with oil and gas companies at this year’s job fair numbering seven, compared with 15 in 2014.
LEDA officials had expected 2,000 job candidates Tuesday, LaGrange said, but the final numbers showed about 2,700 attended.
For job seekers, it was a mixed reception: nurses were greeted with enthusiasm by a health care industry hungry for qualified help, and computer professionals ran into employers’ open arms.
Also greeted warmly were job candidates for tire-change outlets, alcohol and soft drink distributors, and a helicopter manufacturing company.
But landmen, petroleum engineers and other oil and gas professionals found the pickings far slimmer. Oil field activity has slowed greatly in the past 10 months due to the global fall in the price of crude.
Graduating college seniors Mike Montesano and Michael Breaux, who will receive their oil field-related degrees soon, were searching for jobs in their fields without much luck.
Breaux, a graduating petroleum engineer at LSU, was thinking of taking a roustabout’s job with Houma-based drilling company Blake International, which at the LEDA Job Fair was looking only for roustabouts. Breaux said he would take the job “just to break into the industry.”
Montesano, who is Breaux’s friend and a fellow St. Thomas More Catholic High School graduate, was trying to find the landman job for which he was educated at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“Most are not looking at entry-level right now,” Montesano said.
Over at the Bell Helicopter booth, John Pecoraro recruited entry-level workers who will be trained later this year: assemblers and technicians, painters and warehouse workers, and inspectors.
Scheduled to start hiring in the third quarter of 2015, Bell Helicopter is building an 82,300-square-foot manufacturing facility for its 505 Jet Ranger X. Construction is ongoing at the $26 million plant, located off U.S. 90 on Lafayette Regional Airport property.
Pecoraro said the applicants he saw were qualified, “some of them overqualified” for the positions Bell has available.
“It’s a shame with the economy right now because there are some really qualified people out there,” he said.
High-tech jobs, too, were plentiful, including at companies that moved to Lafayette in the past few years — companies such as Perficient, a technology consulting firm that moved to Lafayette last year.
Eric Prudhomme, a talent acquisition specialist for the Missouri-based firm, said Perficient needs to hire 40 Java program developers in the next three months. He said the company also needs business analysts and project managers.
Health care professionals were among those highly sought after by employers on Tuesday, but Brittany St. Julien found them in short supply.
She was trying to recruit nurses for Kailo Behavioral Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Crowley. Kailo also has outpatient facilities in Broussard and Eunice.
Kailo, which serves patients ages 40 and up, needs registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners, mental health technicians and administrative staff, St. Julien said.
St. Julien said there were many qualified administrative candidates who stopped by the Kailo booth Tuesday.
“We’re not seeing a lot of nurses though. We’d like to see more of them,” she said.