RICHMOND — The destruction of chemical weapons in Madison County is some years away yet, but employers are already letting people know about job openings.
On Wednesday, companies associated with the chemical agent-destruction pilot plant held a "career opportunity symposium" at Eastern Kentucky University to educate job-seekers about positions that will become available in the near future — and the qualifications necessary to land those jobs. The companies were Bechtel National, Parsons Government Services, URS Corp., Battelle and GP Strategies Corp.
A handful of job openings will be available as early as next month, said George Rangel, communications manager for Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, the general contractor in the construction, testing and operation of the plant.
"This gives us a chance to see the level of interest in the community for these job openings," Rangel said. "It gives people an opportunity to learn about the jobs, ... and any specific training or skill sets that they would have to prepare for these types of jobs."
When the plant begins operations in 2019-20, its projected employment will be 970 people, making it one of the larger employers in Central Kentucky. Of the jobs filled so far for design and construction of the plant, 57 percent were filled by residents of Madison and surrounding counties, assistant project manager Allison Respers said.
Some positions require two- or four-year degrees, and potential employees must be physically fit for duty and pass government background checks. Fitness is especially important for employees who will be required to wear "bubble suits" to protect themselves from any potential contact with nerve or blister agent. Those who wear the suits can experience heat stress, said Mike Noyes, deputy plant manager.
"You need to be in good health to wear those suits," Noyes said.
Construction of the plant is 85 percent complete and should be finished by the end of 2015, said Jeff Brubaker, PEO ACWA site project manager. Systems are still being installed in the plant, and those systems must go through testing before the plant begins the destruction of weapons.
More than 120 people attended the morning and afternoon sessions of the symposium. Tony Rhineheimer of Nicholasville is interested in any waste-management positions.
"I'm glad I came. It would be a good job, whatever you did, because the scope of it," Rhineheimer said. "And plus, it's very important to get rid of these chemical weapons."
Dwightel Ivey of Richmond said a friend sent her a link about the symposium, so she attended to see what she could learn. Ivey said she would be "very comfortable" working at the plant because her husband has been employed by URS Corp. for about 23 years. URS has more than 32 years of experience with the U.S. program to eliminate chemical weapons.
"I'm familiar with the process and the (chemical) neutralization," she said.
Ivey said her background is in procurement, so she hopes to land something that could use her experience.
"Bechtel does most of the procurement and acquisitions, so I'm going to peruse their site. And URS on occasion has a procurement job available," Ivey said.
Meanwhile, Clayton Lane, 21, will graduate from Eastern Kentucky University in the spring with a major in network security, so he dropped by to see what opportunities were available through Bechtel.
If the company doesn't have a job available in Richmond, Lane said, he's open to moving elsewhere.
"I'm definitely ready to travel," he said. "Nothing is really tying me down. In-state, out-of-state, I'm keeping all the options open."
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.