Skilled Labor Needed At Gulf Coast Plants

When Oreck Manufacturing announced it was moving its vacuum plant from Long Beach to Tennessee, Oreck President Tom Oreck said, "We just can't recruit enough skilled workers to meet our needs."

It turns out that post Katrina problem exists at plants all over south Mississippi. Just ask the people welding together yachts at Trinity Yachts in Gulfport. To build a vessel like the Norwegian Queen II, Trinity Yachts uses a team of highly skilled craftsmen at its Gulfport shipyard.

Cedric Holmes is on the shipyard team.

"Every time we build one it's a different experience, every time," he said.

But just like at the Oreck vacuum plant in Long Beach, finding enough skilled workers, like Holmes, since the hurricane hasn't been easy.

"That's a problem," Trinity Yachts President John Dane III said.

Dane isn't kidding when he says if skilled workers turned in applications, "We could hire them today. We have that much work. We've got almost a four year backlog of work here and we're short workers."

And it's not the only gulf coast plant in that predicament. In Jackson County, Signal International brought in 200 people from India, because the company said a chronic labor shortage after the hurricane made it hard to find qualified welders to repair offshore drilling rigs.

Foreign labor is suddenly an option at the Gulfport shipyard as well.

"There's no doubt about it," said Dane. "There was a Korean group in here which we'll have to provide housing and buses for them. But if that's what it takes to supply the workers that we need to do all the jobs we have, we're going to have to do that."

Because unlike Oreck, Trinity Yachts has no intention of pulling up anchor. So it needs a bigger labor pool to keep welding together large yachts.

One possible solution to the labor shortage may be found at area schools. Harrison County Development Commission executive director Larry Barnett believes development leaders should start training skilled workers at a younger age.

"I think we've got to look to our public schools as the kids go through high school to generate an interest in these young folks into developing a skill," Barnett said.

In the meantime, Trinity Yachts just announced it was raising salaries. At a company fish fry last Friday, Dane announced the new rate to help build luxury yachts in Gulfport was $18.50 an hour.