ccDaily > Vietnamese shrimpers in Miss. gain new career skills

Vietnamese shrimpers in Miss. gain new career skills

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Tuan Nguyen receives hands-on training in a Vietnamese-language heating and air-conditioning repair program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus.

Photo: Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College​

​Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Oil Spill in 2010, many commercial fishermen along the Mississippi Gulf Coast had to find other jobs. 

As a result, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) and Asian Americans for Change (AAC)—a non-profit, community-based development organization—partnered after Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill to provide workforce training for skills in new careers.

Because Vietnamese American fishermen were hit hardest, MGCCC focused advertising its training programs in Vietnamese communities along the coast in November 2010. 

“Since there is a significant Asian-American population in South Mississippi, these programs are an outstanding opportunity for Gulf Coast to partner with the community to train individuals in high-demand fields,” said MGCCC President Mary Graham.

Through its workforce development department, the college offers programs in electrical, welding and residential heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC). The no-cost programs offer participants an opportunity to gain national or college certification in one of the skills areas in daytime, evening or weekend classes that last from two to eight weeks.

Since spring 2010, the college has provided nine completed short-term training classes, with almost 150 students successfully completing training. The college’s long-term partnerships with area industry and industry participation in the training plans assure participants have a promising opportunity to get jobs.

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Annie Nguyen, a case manager for the state employment agency, works in collaboration with AAC and MGCCC to offer continuing support and career counseling for these students.

“Program participants are all ages, but most are older,” she said. “Many of them have never set foot in class and many of them don’t speak English or don’t speak it well. We are here to help them bridge the gap and help them successfully complete the training and find a job.”

Nguyen said the organization provides program participants with interpreters and job placement assistance. Vietnamese interpreters are present in classes to ensure students understand the skills they are being taught.

Because of the success of the programs, AAC added an additional case manager last fall, bringing the total to three, to keep the Asian American community informed of training offered at MGCCC, maintain contact with program completers and offer job assistance when necessary. AAC case managers have counseled more than 1,000 residents in South Mississippi and have helped 137 clients successfully complete classes at MGCCC in either short-term training or career training programs offered at the college. Nguyen said 57 are currently on waiting lists for classes in pipefitting, HVAC and welding.

Skills for the future

Brent Bond, who teaches the electrical program at MGCCC, said the training is an excellent opportunity for the fishermen, even if they are able to return to fishing. 

“These programs, like electrical, offer shrimpers the skills to operate their own business or work for another company full time or during the off-season,” Bond said. “The point is that they are able to maintain a steady job.” 

The electrical classes provide the students National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certification. NCCER is the credentialing program for the construction industry, offering curricula and certification in more than 60 craft areas.

Program participants agree that the training is relevant and provides them the skills needed to find a good job. John Bui, a student in a recent HVAC program at MGCCC, said the tourism industry has also suffered since the oil spill. 

“I have a job in the tourism industry but am worried about the future. That’s why I need to learn more about air conditioning and heating,” he said. “It is a job I know will always be here because people always need air conditioning in the South.”

Former shrimper Robert Nguyen works part-time as a cook in a local restaurant. He wanted to make a better living, so he registered for a welding class. 

“Before, I was working on a shrimp boat with my dad since before I could walk,” he said. “It was bad after Katrina, and after the oil spill it got even worse. I knew I had to do something to get a better job. This program is very good and I am able to get national certifications as well.” 

The welding program offers eight welding certifications through the American Welding Society.

Wayne Kuntz, MGCCC workforce development director for Harrison and Stone counties, said that the college plans to include additional programs because of the continuing success of the short-term training. 

“After Katrina, we offered construction-related classes,” he said. “In 2010, following the oil spill, the construction industry was in a slump, so we didn’t want to offer those same programs. Instead, we offered training in welding, HVAC and electrical. Those classes have received a phenomenal response so we plan to expand our offerings in the next few months.”

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