Vietnamese fishermen catch opportunity in vocational program

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Some Vietnamese shrimpers are testing new waters. They're enrolled in a vocational training program designed to broaden their job skills.

Longtime shrimpers accustomed to working with fishing nets and boats, are equipping themselves with air conditioning gauges and welders.

They're taking part in a technical training program, designed in the wake of the oil spill, to provide job training.

"We're going to add some liquid refrigerant to it first," said technology instructor, Stephen Buckheister, as he addressed a group of mostly Vietnamese students.

This vocational class is teaching fishermen and others impacted by the BP oil spill the technical skills needed to maintain air conditioning systems.

The training was designed for Vietnamese shrimpers with one thing in mind.

"Their future," said Annie Nguyen, with the group Asian Americans for Change, "Because right now, I don't know about the fishing industry. And a lot of these fishermen are going through hardships."

This class involves air conditioning work, but there are several vocational skills offered through the vocational program.

"We've set up some welding classes, and we're also looking to offer ship building classes in the future. So, we're trying to get some skills to this group, so they can have other options for employment besides being shrimpers," said Wayne Kuntz, with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Fisherman Obra Murphy is hopeful the training program will lead to an apprenticeship program and future job opportunities.

"It means a lot. Hopefully, I can do something besides going fishing, shrimping," said Murphy.

Though it was initially geared toward the Vietnamese fishing community, the program has been expanded to include anyone whose employment may have been impacted by the oil spill.

"Oh, I've learned a lot from them you know," said casino worker Peter Nguyen, who appreciates the training. He, too, sees opportunity.

"In casino right now, it's too slow now. That's why I need to learn some more AC and heating," he explained.

Instructor Buckheister sees potential among these class members.

"It's a good program. I've got some good students out of it. These students are sharp. I've got some who have really picked it up quick," he said.

The program is open to anyone whose job was adversely affected by the BP oil spill.

Tuition is free. The program is funded by a grant from the Department of Labor, administered through the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.

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