Craig Broussard from ARTCo speaks to a group of high school students March 7 at the Port of South Louisiana about career opportunities available to them in the maritime industry. (Photos by Frank McCormack)

PortSL Hosts Two We Work The Waterways Events

Busloads of high school students from Louisiana’s river parishes visited the Port of South Louisiana (PortSL) March 6 and 7 as part of a pair of industry interaction events hosted by We Work the Waterways, a program of Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals Inc. (IRPT). During the event, students from St. John the Baptist, Ascension and St. Charles parishes also toured Cargill’s facility in nearby Reserve, La.

At PortSL’s headquarters, students practiced line-handling skills, took turns on a pair of Caterpillar simulators, learned about the commodities and industries that drive much of Louisiana’s economy and heard from a whole host of professionals from across the maritime industry.

Paul Matthews, CEO of the Port of South Louisiana, addressed students who attended the March 6 event, emphasizing the diversity of careers and opportunities available to young people in the maritime and shipping industries.

“For decades, Louisiana’s strategic location on the Mississippi River has attracted industry and businesses that have created thousands of jobs for River Parish families,” Matthews said. “Port of South Louisiana is proud to once again host this spectacular event that exposes Louisiana high school students to high-paying jobs and career paths that are available to them upon graduation. We Work the Waterways opens doors to create generational wealth for families [and] helps to build a skilled workforce for industry that keeps our kids right here at home in Louisiana.”

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Outside the port’s headquarters, Dominique Bishop, a senior mate with 17.5 years of experience with Ingram Barge Company, coached students on line-handling. Nearby, inside Louisiana CAT’s simulator trailer, Micah Blanchard and Randy Tyrone gave students the chance to steer an articulated truck and bulldozer through a construction site.

At one point, the trailer began to rumble.

“That’s not good,” Tyrone said.

It turned out the student at Blanchard’s simulator had crashed his truck.

“That’s all right,” Blanchard said, “because in this case we get to retry.”

Merritt Parsons of Louisiana CAT talks with students. (Photo by Frank McCormack)
Merritt Parsons of Louisiana CAT talks with students. (Photo by Frank McCormack)

Elsewhere outside, Merritt Parsons, director of training and development at Louisiana CAT, introduced students to the wide range of cargoes handled at ports and terminals throughout South Louisiana. Nearby, Craig Broussard, divisional support and compliance manager for ADM-ARTCo, made a case for pursuing a career path in the maritime industry right out of high school, as opposed to other fields or working in retail. Broussard offered a glimpse of the kind of career and income arc students might anticipate in the maritime and shipping fields.

“Working at a place like Walmart might get you what you need, but it won’t get you what you want,” he said.

Inside, volunteers with We Work the Waterways offered an overview of how transportation and logistics fit within the larger U.S. and global economy, then fielded questions. Capt. Jason Ledet, a river pilot with the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association (NOBRA) and a member of Open Waters, assured the students that the opportunities he and the other industry representatives described to them were indeed real.

“This is not made up,” Ledet said. “This is not a dream. We would not be here if these opportunities weren’t available to you.”

Errin Howard, who directs IRPT’s career development program, also spoke to the personal nature of the industry, which she said transcends “workplace” to become more of a community.

“You’re not going to be a number to these companies,” she said. “You’re going to be family.”

Howard praised the team of volunteers that made the events at the Port of South Louisiana a success, adding that the early feedback she’s received has been positive.

“I was so very pleased with everything yesterday for my classes,” said Bess Melancon, technical writing teacher for St. Amant High School. “Each part of the day was well planned, and the people who were involved did a fantastic job. Students saw a variety of people at different ages all doing different things.

“I first attended the trip with a group of teachers in 2017, and I can see how it has developed and changed,” Melancon continued. “Walking through the Cargill facility, seeing machine parts and pieces they have worked on in action and the activity stations were some of the students’ favorite things. I hope to be able to bring more students in the future. Listening to [PortSL] CEO [Paul Matthews] speak was also a great touch.”

Corporate partners for the two PortSL events included AccuTRANS, American Commercial Barge Line, ARTCo, Associated Terminals, Cargill, Cooper Consolidated, Crescent Towing, Ingram Barge Company, Louisiana CAT, the NOBRA Pilots, Open Waters, Turn Services, Mississippi Valley Trade & Transport Council, Marquette Transportation, Wood Resources LLC, Consortium for Public Education, Furgo USA, Women in Maritime Operations and Port of South Louisiana.

For more information on the program, visit

Caption for top photo: Craig Broussard from ARTCo speaks to a group of high school students March 7 at the Port of South Louisiana about career opportunities available to them in the maritime industry. (Photos by Frank McCormack)