Louisiana women as­pire to work in male-dom­i­nated oil and gas in­dus­try

Texarkana Gazette - - METRO/SOUTH - By Leigh Guidry

NEW IBE­RIA, La.—In her pinkand-grey sweat­shirt and fuzzy boots, Court­ney Long picks a drill bit off a table in her class­room at South Louisiana Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s cam­pus in New Ibe­ria.

She points out how it’s much heav­ier than it looks and much smaller than some bits found on rigs.

Long, 25, re­cently vis­ited a rig in Mor­gan City with her class­mates. She is one of four women in SLCC’s oil and gas pro­duc­tion tech­nol­ogy pro­gram this se­mes­ter.

An­other woman com­pleted the oneyear pro­gram last sum­mer, earn­ing a tech­ni­cal diploma in a tra­di­tion­ally male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try.

Women make up about one-fifth (22 per­cent) of em­ploy­ees in the oil and gas in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 re­port from The Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group.

That’s low com­pared to other ma­jor in­dus­tries like fi­nance (39 per­cent of em­ploy­ees are women) and health and so­cial work (60 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Only con­struc­tion ranked lower than oil and gas with 11 per­cent.

The co­hort at SLCC falls in line with those fig­ures. Four of the 19 stu­dents that make up Long’s class, or 21 per­cent, are women.

Cur­rent stu­dent Lacey Graves, 26, said she chose to quit her job and pur­sue this ca­reer full-time for two rea­sons.

“In this ca­reer field, you can make a lot of money, and par­tially be­cause it’s not a tra­di­tional job for fe­males,” Graves said. “I have a 2-year-old daugh­ter. I want to show her she can do what­ever she wants. You don’t have to stick to tra­di­tion­ally fe­male jobs.”

She’s from Lore­auville and sur­rounded by the oil and gas in­dus­try, a com­mon theme for stu­dents in this pro­gram.

Long’s fa­ther, grand­fa­ther, un­cles and brother have all worked or still work in the in­dus­try. She’s seen them face lay­offs and the ups and downs of such a ca­reer.

Now, with a se­mes­ter and a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion un­der her belt, she en­joys be­ing able to jump into con­ver­sa­tions at home she might have been left out of be­fore.

“These are cer­ti­fi­ca­tions that (some) peo­ple in the oil field don’t have,” Long said.

Graves is hop­ing for that edge in the tra­di­tion­ally male-dom­i­nated world of oil and gas.

“I feel like if we would go ap­ply for a job I feel they would be more likely to hire a man,” Graves said. “So I would think we need to have that proof—that proof that I’m wor­thy.”

As a sin­gle par­ent, Long’s pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion was find­ing a job that would pro­vide for her and her son.

“For me, I have a lot of fam­ily mem­bers in it,” Long said. “I saw what it did for them. I’m a sin­gle par­ent. … My per­spec­tive was I had to make the money to pro­vide for our life­style.”

So she drives 45 min­utes from Ce­cilia to cam­pus ev­ery week­day for four hours of class, and she works as a bar­tender on the week­end.

Darell Las­trapes, 20, also com­mutes about 45 min­utes for classes. She took a ver­sion of this class as a high-schooler in Opelousas and de­cided to buck the fam­ily trend and en­ter this field rather than non­de­struc­tive test­ing (or NDT).

“I was go­ing to do NDT, but I had al­ready started this and thought ‘Why not fin­ish?’” Las­trapes said.

Leanna Si­moneaud, 18, came to SLCC straight from high school. Her fa­ther, too, worked in the oil field, and the Del­cam­bre na­tive was itch­ing for some­thing hands-on. Plus, she’s will­ing to travel—any­where.

These four started the pro­gram in Au­gust and quickly be­came like a fam­ily, they said.

Si­moneaud said it was a nice sur­prise to find other women in their class. They said it made them more com­fort­able.

“I’ll ask Lacey for help be­fore one of the guys,” Long said, and all of them laughed. She said the guys an­swer but don’t al­ways ex­plain it in-depth. “… I’m glad there are four of us.”

The four of them will grad­u­ate in July with tech­ni­cal diplo­mas in oil and gas pro­duc­tion tech­nol­ogy.

The pro­gram is three con­sec­u­tive semesters and de­signed to take novices, lead in­struc­tor Aaron Ward said, and pre­pare them for jobs such as pro­duc­tion op­er­a­tor, flood hand, ba­sic com­pli­ance of­fi­cer and more.

“Most start out mak­ing roughly $50,000 a year,” Ward said, find­ing jobs on oil rigs or chem­i­cal plants.

It’s no se­cret that the job mar­ket for oil and gas ebbs and flows, and right now, Ward ad­mits, is more of an ebb.

“The best time to ed­u­cate your­self is when the price (of oil) is low,” Ward said. “Com­pa­nies are in­vest­ing. … So when the mar­ket and price pick back up, we’re ready.”

If they don’t go straight to work, they could con­tinue at SLCC to get five more gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses for an as­so­ciate’s de­gree in tech­ni­cal stud­ies.

“These are cer­ti­fi­ca­tions that (some) peo­ple in the oil field don’t have.” —Court­ney Long, South Louisiana Com­mu­nity Col­lege stu­dent

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