Delgado Graduate Makes Things Work
Machine Tool Technology program enjoys partnership with Laitram LLC
by Tony Cook
Michael Nguyen is a quiet young man. As a machinist working in the state-of-the-art Laitram Machine Shop in Harahan, he spends his days meticulously creating machine parts that make up some of the finest commercial equipment in the world.
Laitram LLC, Nguyen’s employer, is a global manufacturing company that has been part of the Louisiana business landscape for more than 50 years. Laitram (the name is company founder James Martial Lapeyre’s middle name spelled backward) operates four divisions—Intralox LLC, Laitram Machinery Inc., Lapeyre Stair Inc. and Laitram Machine Shop LLC—employing over 1,700 people worldwide. About 1,100 of them work in Harahan.
When Michael was a high school student at Helen Cox in Gretna, where he was born and raised, he loved to build models and plastic robots. He possessed a high aptitude for challenging subjects like calculus, and he was corps commander of the school’s Junior ROTC unit.
A young man with those qualities was bound to become an asset to some organization after completing his education. Michael’s father, a civil engineer employed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in Morgan City, was familiar with the technologies found in modern-day machine shops. He sensed that his son might enjoy a career in the field, and he had heard about the program at Delgado Community College. Michael applied and was accepted. His goal: certification in Machine Tool Technology.
But what about a job after finishing his studies? Ngyuen said that a field trip to the Laitram Machine Shop during his first semester at Delgado enlightened him about opportunities. That shop, one of the largest and most technologically advanced in the New Orleans region, is where the 22-year-old works today.
More than 35 pieces of machinery fill several large buildings at the Laitram campus next to the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi River. These range from machines commonly used in the field, such as mills, lathes, drill presses, grinders and saws, to advanced machinery that “prints” three-dimensional plastic parts on demand from a computer program. Some machines are custom-built. All of it, old or new, is well maintained and immaculate. Machine shops are not thought to be the cleanest of environments. This one is, and it is impressive.
“It’s a lot bigger than the first shop I ever saw in Morgan City,” Michael said. When he made that first-semester visit to Laitram, he saw that the possibilities were many. “For someone like me, with mechanical-focused thinking—you want to know to know how things are put together, how they work—it was the perfect environment.” Nguyen, whose program at Delgado’s East Jefferson site in Metairie is designed to be completed in two years, worked closely with lead instructor John Guidry and (retired) program coordinator Luther Davis. The seven machines in the Delgado machine tools shop, called the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence, gave Michael a chance to become well-rounded. But machines don’t teach. Not without instructors to show students how to use them.
“Mr. Guidry is very passionate about his work,” Nguyen said. “He knows so many different machines, so it was inspiring to be his student.”
Davis also provided attention and guidance to Michael and his classmates. “He came to the class every day to ask about what we were doing,” Nguyen said. “Not only did I earn my certification: the school taught me a lot of things that make my life very fulfilling.”
Much of the time while enrolled at Delgado, Michael worked as a machinist intern at the Laitram Machine Shop. That’s where he caught the attention of the shop’s general manager, Hans Ruoss, who hired the quiet young man as soon as he graduated from Delgado in the spring of 2013.
Michael became the first full-time employee in the shop to graduate from Delgado while interning at Laitram. “Michael will be a wonderful asset for us, and he is a great example of what our partnership with Delgado can produce,” said Franck LaBiche, the company’s human resources director.
Ruoss, a 20-year employee at Laitram, is a mechanical engineer who earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of New Orleans and studied at Mississippi State University. He’s an outdoorsman and athlete, serves as scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop in Mandeville and is an articulate, engaging representative of his company and his profession.
He’s also a former Delgado Community College student, with 20 credit hours earned at the City Park Campus. “I loved the environment at Delgado,” Ruoss said. He credits the college with helping him find his way in life.
In order to become a machinist intern at Laitram, a Delgado student must have completed a full year of study. When selected for the intern program, the student receives help with tuition from the company, which does not hire any student until Delgado studies are finished and the Certificate of Technical Studies is awarded.
Ruoss credits Mike Martin, a project manager at the Laitram Machine Shop, and Delgado’s Davis with setting up the partnership and making it work. The company’s assistance to Delgado includes providing advice on curriculum development, donating equipment and working with suppliers to negotiate price breaks on equipment and supplies for the college’s machine tools technology program.
The nationwide shortage of skilled machine tools technology workers—some 60,000 are needed—is also felt locally. There are more jobs available in the field than there are people prepared to fill them. “Having trained employees provided for our industry through technical education at Delgado and other schools is extremely valuable to us,” Ruoss said.
Employment at Laitram after completing the internship is quite valuable to the students, as well. “A machinist here can start at $15 to $20 an hour, and can expect to earn up to $30 an hour,” Ruoss said. There are about 70 employees in his shop divided among two shifts. Salaries range from about $45,000 to around $80,000.
Earnings like these are often associated with professional jobs that require a four-year degree. That people who work with their hands can enjoy such monetary rewards may surprise some. But it’s common knowledge to Ruoss, the engineer. “Manufacturing brings high-value, long-term employment to the region,” he said.
A quick-start program is in the works, whereby qualified Delgado students may acquire the skills necessary for Laitram employment in just six weeks. But the current two-year program remains the gold standard. There are two other Delgado students working in the machine shop as interns, Ruoss said, with more in the pipeline.
Is Michael Ngyuen, the quiet young man who likes knowing how things work, happy with his Delgado education and his career choice? A broad smile crosses his face: “Oh yes!”
Seeing a Clear Future
Accounting student gains practical experience at Heitmeier eyecare clinic
by Dee Shedrick
Casey Raines is a working mom and accounting student at Delgado Community College on the West Bank Campus. Raines works at Heitmeier, Armani, Langhetee & Cangelosi Medical & Surgical Eyecare, one of Algiers’ most prominent optometry clinics. Even though her major is accounting, Raines is very proficient and a valued employee where she has worked for almost two years. She does everything from paperwork, phone calls, faxes, ordering, and making lenses for eyeglasses in the optical lab. “I am a floater because I am everywhere. If they need me anywhere I just go. So I’ve learned pretty much everything back here … I’m pretty good with paperwork and the type of things they need me for,” said Raines. But that’s not the only reason Raines and many other students have enjoyed working for Dr. David Heitmeier and the other doctors. “I like working here. Actually on Mondays and Wednesdays I go to class during my lunch break, so they are pretty lenient with my school schedule,” said Raines.
The practice employs about 25 people and there are certain qualities Dr. Heitmeier demands in a potential employee. “I do not do the hiring and firing. We have someone that actually hires and fires and things of that nature, so the more education you have, the better chances you have of having an appointment—just because what it does is it says you’ve had to go through some trials and tribulations, understand what sacrifice is,” said Dr. Heitmeier. “Sometimes it’s tough to get up in the morning or it’s a cold rainy day to get to work and so it’s a character issue and also an educational component that we put a lot of respect to.” A lot of the employees are referrals from employees who already work in
the office and their backgrounds range from business to allied health professions.
Dr. Heitmeier has been fitting patients for glasses and contacts, checking for diabetic retinopathy and cataracts, and treating dry eyes and glaucoma since August 2, 1987. He made the decision to be an optometrist when he was a little boy. “My aunt was disabled, she was blind, she couldn’t see and at a young age I wanted to help her see and help other people like her see, and that’s why I wanted to go into the eye care profession,” said Dr. Heitmeier. He believes that health care is a great profession to go into and is one of the few professions that will continue to grow jobs.
Over the years Dr. Heitmeier’s office has had a number of employees who have either attended or are current students or graduates of Delgado. “I think it’s our location to the campus because the campus is not that far away and a lot of the people that live on the West Bank tend to go to Delgado, so I would probably say by far that that’s probably one of the colleges that we have a lot of people attend,” said Office Manager Steven Evans. “Obviously we are always interested in college students because they are looking for part-time work. We have a lot of college students that we actually hire and they work here—we are very flexible because we work around their schedules—we have a couple of different shifts.”
Delgado students have the ability to attract opportunities and jobs because of their skills and training that that they receive from the College. “When I think about Delgado I think of jobs. I think of Delgado as being the community college that is a way for many individuals to change their life—to enhance their quality of life—to marry the workforce that we need as a state to jobs that are open. Delgado, in my opinion, what Dr. Monty does over there along with Joe May, is critical to the success of our state because it develops the workforce that we need to attract the businesses so that we can keep growing our job force,” said Dr. Heitmeier.
If you are a business owner or you know of any businesses that employ Delgado students and graduates, we would like to feature the story. Participants of the Community Allies program will receive an official Delgado sticker that reads, “A Delgado graduate works here” for their place of business. Call or e-mail us at (504) 671-5497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.