‘Walking into my future’

John Martin was looking for a job when he called ExxonMobil Baton Rouge in summer 2012. But he ended up getting into a training program that put him on the road to a new career.

Martin, 45, of Baton Rouge, had been working as a scaffolding builder, but the jobs had dried up.

Exxon officials told Martin he wasn’t qualified for any of the openings at the plant. But they told him about the North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative, a new program that offers free job training to qualified people, enabling them to get certified for in-demand crafts such as pipefitting, welding and electrical.

To qualify for the program, participants must show an aptitude for the crafts and pass a criminal background check.

“I didn’t want to hear about training; I wanted a job,” Martin said.

Over the years, he had started degree programs at Southern University and the University of Phoenix, but dropped out before finishing them. But the Exxon officials and Martin’s cousin Lois Dorsey encouraged him to get involved with the North Baton Rouge training initiative.

The initiative is a partnership that includes Baton Rouge Community College, Capital Area Technical College and various community and industry partners, including Performance Contractors, Jacobs Engineering and Stupp Corporation. The goal is to recruit and train North Baton Rouge residents for careers with industrial employers.

Steve Blume, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge refinery manager, said the program was created to help meet the demand for thousands of industrial workers anticipated for the near future as baby boomers retire and plants along the Gulf Coast expand. The program lets companies be good neighbors by providing job opportunities for people who live around the plants.

Martin started taking the training courses at Capital Area Technical College in the fall, walking 15 minutes to the school every day.

“It felt like with every step I took, I was walking into my future,” he said.

Martin is now working at Exxon Mobil as an employee at Turner Industries. He was selected out of the 46 students in the initiative’s first graduating class to speak at the commencement ceremony Monday evening.

Blume said the 46 graduates won’t meet projected needs at plants, but “every bit helps.”

“And if we get a couple of more programs like this, we could start adding a few hundred people to the workforce,” he said.

Stephen Toups, executive vice president and CIO of Turner Industries, said he expects most of the graduating class will soon have jobs.

“They absolutely have the skills that companies are looking for,” he said.

Eugene Thomas Jr., 29, earned a GED and a certificate in pipefitting through the program. Thomas said he hasn’t found work yet, but he’s going to a job fair Tuesday.

“This will help me get a better job,” he said.

BRCC put $150,000 toward the initiative, while industry partners also made contributions, said Andrea Miller, chancellor of the community college.

Applications for a second class will be accepted beginning in March with the five-month training beginning in June.

“We hope this program will continue,” Miller said.