A recent study conducted by the Louisiana Workforce Commission and other groups including CABL called attention to a current crisis in the Louisiana workforce caused by two major converging factors: a workforce that is undereducated and under-trained, and a workforce population that is shrinking. Both are part of a disturbing and growing trend that has serious long-term implications that hurt Louisiana’s ability to grow and attract jobs.
How have we gotten into this situation? There are many contributing factors:
1) Louisiana workers often lack the knowledge and skills needed for the current labor market, but they are even less prepared for the new jobs that could be created by an emerging knowledge-based economy.
2) At the same time, many of our young people are in post-secondary education programs that will prepare them for jobs that will be far less available. That has created a mismatch of education and training to the jobs needed now and in the future.
3) Even more importantly, an alarming number of Louisiana’s young people leave the education pipeline by dropping out of high school or entering the workforce without any post-secondary technical or community college training.
4) Add to that, Louisiana has a significant number of educated citizens leaving the state.
5) Like other states we have an aging workforce nearing retirement.
6) Our birth rates are falling below replacement levels.
7) And finally, Louisiana has high poverty, illiteracy and incarceration rates.
Many experts agree that unless Louisiana addresses these conditions, no amount of “economic development” will grow or attract the number and type of jobs Louisiana needs for a healthier and more stable economy in the next decade. In other words, the jobs won’t come if we don’t have the workers, and we don’t have enough of the educated, trainable workers we need.
While Louisiana has some unique problems, we can also put into practice many of the ideas used by other Southern states that have done a better job of developing a workforce that meets current and future labor needs. One important strategy that Louisiana can follow is to increase and strengthen programs throughout the education pipeline that stress building careers, are based on work place skills and labor market demands and highlight the benefits of community and technical colleges. These programs should culminate in certificates or diplomas that can be used around the state to further upgrade skills. Louisiana should also provide “report cards” on community, two-year and technical colleges, universities, and training programs. They should be based on the progress these institutions and programs make in closing the workforce skills gap, whether they provide quality programs tied to current and new labor market needs, and how many people successfully complete the programs.
Employers also tell us that Louisiana workers are especially lacking in skills related to technology, literacy, communications, work ethic and civic responsibility. They stress the need for educators to build more of these skills into their curricula and raise learning standards where they exist.
In addition, students, parents, and both younger and older workers often lack information on what’s available in post-secondary education and training programs, especially at community and technical colleges. They frequently don’t understand that the job market of the future will be different, as it responds to the needs of a constantly changing economy. Although the state has initiated some positive efforts, Louisiana must improve its efforts to reach young adults, students, and current workers needing to earn better wages.
Things To Consider: The Shrinking Workforce
A report from the Louisiana Workforce Commission, Louisiana’s Urgent Agenda for a Knowledge Economy Workforce, paints a compelling picture of the shrinking workforce and the problems created by the knowledge gap in our state. It looked at how the freshman high school class of 1999 chose to prepare for the workforce, and compared it to the jobs that will be available to them. It found that:
· 28% graduated from high school and entered four-year public or private colleges.
· 5% graduated and entered two-year and community colleges, technical schools, private training schools or apprenticeships.
· 33% graduated and began looking for work in the labor market directly without additional education or training.
· 34% dropped out before completing high school.
Meanwhile, Workforce 2020 projections predict a job market not suited for many of these workers. That study says:
· 20% of the jobs available will require four-year degrees.
· 65% will require two-year associate degrees or advanced training from community or technical colleges and training programs.
· 15% will require minimum skills for employment.
The skills gap is apparent. Two-thirds of the freshman class of 1999 will be competing for the 15% of jobs that require minimal skills. Meanwhile, the 85% of jobs that need additional education and training will have a much smaller pool of potential Louisiana workers to choose from.
Questions to Ask:
Louisiana is still losing its young people and voters are still concerned about job security and the lack of opportunities. Recognizing that the state has to support its traditional jobs and business sectors while at the same time expanding and diversifying our economy to create new opportunities, what are your strategies for accomplishing this?
Just next year alone it is projected that enrollment in Louisiana’s new community colleges will grow by close to 5,000 students. This has been one of Louisiana’s greatest recent success stories, but today citizens in some of our state’s larger communities still don’t have access to a community college, and these colleges have already become a target for some lawmakers to cut. Please describe your goals for the community college system and what it will look like four years from now if you are elected.