The Advocate

Efforts to de-stigmatize skilled craft work have gained traction in the past year and early successes are coming out of partnerships between area community colleges and businesses that are designed to customize employee training, a chamber report says.

However, the report also shows that the latest occupational projections from the Louisiana Workforce Commission continue to underestimate the number of technology job openings in the Baton Rouge metro area.

Those results are among a number of findings in the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s annual workforce report shows, which summarizes the projected supply and demand of skilled occupations for 2017.

“The good news is that we have a regional economy still doing well, still growing. Our ability to continue to grow and accelerate that growth has so much to do with the available workforce matching demand, and the ability for employers to connect with that talent,” said Adam Knapp, chamber president and chief executive officer.

One of the things the report is designed to do is provide an annual refresher for businesses, educational institutions and policymakers on the region so they can use that data to make decisions, Knapp said. A community college may want to change the courses it offers. A business can find out where to look for resources. A student can consider what education and training he or she needs and where opportunities lie in the future.

The report found that over the past year, the jobs that generated the most demand were electricians, registered nurses, and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses. But the occupations where the most people completed training were welding, truck driving and accounting.

While the area still needs welders, production has caught up with demand, Knapp said. BRAC is hoping the same thing will happen for pipefitters, where there’s more demand than workers being trained.

Knapp said it’s unclear why the state forecasts for technology positions don’t match the vacancies already posted.

“Posted demand with available positions seems to suggest that there’s more need out there than the forecast seems to show, at any rate more than the production of folks training for the technology fields,” Knapp said. “Our desire and the point in this comment is to ask that the forecasting be improved, but also the training between the K-12 and the two-year systems and four-year systems continue to push forward more aggressively around the needs for software and more technology-related fields.”

Louisiana Economic Development spokesman Gary Perilloux said the state has partnered with universities that provide a pipeline of talent to the tech sector. Those partnerships include the University of New Orleans-led initiative with GE and the IBM-LSU effort in Baton Rouge, he said. Those partnerships, as well as initiatives to spur investment in digital game and studio development, have helped create more than 5,000 new digital media, software technology and information technology jobs.

The BRAC report may not capture all of the support services associated with tech projects attracted to Louisiana, he said. So the full range of tech jobs and openings in the Capital Region or elsewhere in the state might not be reflected in the Bureau of Labor Statistics data in the BRAC report.

Knapp said de-stigmatizing skilled crafts shows the higher education system is paying a lot more attention to the needs of business and industry. The push has come from the bottom up, from the schools and businesses, as well as from the top down, at the state policy level.

East Baton Rouge Parish, for example, has tried to align program offerings with the BRAC reports and state forecasts, Knapp said. There has been an intense focus to prepare students for high-demand, high-wage jobs and industry sectors.

It’s encouraging to see the education system improve in a number of areas, which gives one more confidence that the system can adjust as areas of need are identified, Knapp said.

“Our hope would be that not only continues but accelerates. It’s something that becomes almost a muscle memory for the education system to constantly be paying attention to what the need areas are and adjusting accordingly.”