Louisiana is open for business, and thousands of good jobs are available across the state. In fact, there are nearly 100,000 job opportunities statewide, and Louisiana’s unemployment rate is hovering at its lowest point in the past 30 years. At the same time, however, thousands of citizens are outside the labor force entirely. Of the civilian population age 16 and older, only 61.6% are participating in the workforce—well below the national average (66%).
Louisiana is experiencing a “skills gap,” whereby the training and education of our citizens does not meet the requirements of available jobs. Because of the shortage of skilled workers, economic opportunities are lost for our citizens and for the state. Finding qualified employees is one of the top obstacles to business growth for companies in Louisiana, and workforce issues are among the top two concerns for roughly 70 percent of business development prospects for the state.
Furthermore, because businesses cannot find the qualified employees they need to grow, Louisiana’s citizens have fewer opportunities to move up, earn more, and provide for their families. The lack of economic mobility discourages many Louisianans, including thousands of young people who have left our state in search of greater opportunities.
There are several long-standing causes of the workforce crisis in Louisiana, including:
Bureaucratic silos: While workforce development is repeatedly identified as a state priority, Louisiana has done a very poor job in preparing and training potential workers. There is little coordination across programs, which are operated in various agencies, including the Departments of Economic Development and Labor, the Louisiana Workforce Commission, and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS). The system is remarkably complicated, making it difficult for both employers and job seekers to access and utilize.
Little cooperation at the regional level: Federal programs and other services are not well aligned or integrated at the regional level either. The specific needs and labor force characteristics in each region make this a critical component to effectively prepare workers.
Weak capacity to address urgent needs: The state currently has limited capacity to address workforce issues that arise suddenly as a result of employer or industry need or due to unforeseen events, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Lack of focus on community and technical colleges: Louisiana only recently created a community and technical college system. Twenty-five percent of Louisiana’s post-secondary students are enrolled in community and technical colleges, significantly lower than our peers such as Georgia (38 percent), Mississippi (52 percent), and Texas (54 percent). Yet, economic projections show that over half of Louisiana jobs in 2014 will require more training than a high school diploma but less than a traditional 4-year college degree.
Student achievement and preparation for the workforce: In a 2007 national Chance-for-Success Index, Louisiana ranks #49 in the nation based on 13 indicators that highlight whether young children get off to a good start, succeed in elementary and secondary school, and hit crucial educational and economic benchmarks as adults.
The failures of the state’s workforce development system cannot be addressed with piecemeal programs and policy changes. Governor Jindal is committed to systemic transformation of Louisiana’s approach to workforce development. This reform will require an extensive, sustained effort over several years. Initiatives must be stronger, well coordinated, and better designed to meet the needs of Louisiana’s businesses to advance economic development and the quality of life of our citizens.
#1: Strengthen and prioritize community and technical colleges to match workforce needs, meet market demand, and fill available jobs.
#2: Immediately respond to urgent workforce opportunities and challenges.
#3: Maximize the input of business and industry to realign and integrate Louisiana’s workforce strategy at the statewide and regional level.
#4: Expand the career options of high school students.
#5: Recruit and train new workers to fill thousands of available jobs.