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College and Industry Partnerships Are Stronger Than Ever

April 6, 2015

A Joint Column by Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), and Dr. Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS)

To meet the demands of a growing economy, Louisiana has a record number of jobs and workers. Economists estimate more than 75,000 jobs will need to be filled annually in Louisiana over the next ten years, of which 25,000 are new jobs every year. While the industrial boom dominates the headlines, growth is also occurring in new sectors such as technology and health care. In fact, even as low crude prices are resulting in declines in oil and gas employment, Louisiana continues to post job gains overall due to growth in so many areas.

Nearly half of annual job openings in Louisiana require a post-secondary credential and another 38 percent require some college. However, of the 2.3 million potential working adults in Louisiana today, 600,000 have no high school diploma and another 1 million adults have a high school diploma but no post-secondary credential. It is clear that without targeted and urgent action, hundreds of thousands of Louisianans will be unprepared to capitalize on this life-changing opportunity.  

To meet this challenge and ensure that Louisiana jobs are filled by Louisianans, employers and community and technical colleges are partnering now more than ever in our state’s history. In 2013, the Legislature passed Act 360 to improve and build facilities for the rapidly growing community and technical colleges across the state, but also required a private match for the public investment. In 2014, the JumpStart program was launched to create regional networks of K12 schools, colleges, and employers to design specific solutions for high-demand jobs in each area so that students graduate with industry-based certifications ready for employment or for college. Last year, the Legislature created the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy (WISE) fund to produce more graduates in demand jobs, but again only when a private company partners with the college and provides a funding match. These initiatives have honed the focus of colleges and strengthened industry relationships that will pay dividends for generations.

Employers around the state have risen to the challenge. In just the past 18 months, Louisiana’s community and technical colleges have raised $40 million from industry partners’ private matches. Individual companies are working directly with neighboring community and technical colleges to ensure appropriate, high-quality training to fill available jobs in creative ways. Recognizing the opportunity before us, corporate partners such as AT&T, JP Morgan Chase, CB&I, and Praxair have made significant investments across multiple colleges.

In Lake Charles, for example, SOWELA is experiencing record enrollment in industrial trades to meet the dramatic expansion needs in the region. Public-private partnerships abound with companies such as Capital One and Sasol to support the training and utilize a $20 million new regional training facility currently under construction. In Lafayette, the Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center and local partners created a two-year registered nurse program at the South Louisiana Community College with the inaugural class in training now. In Baton Rouge, the Dow Chemical Foundation teamed with the Baton Rouge Community College to create the Women in Welding program, training 53 women at their Port Allen and Westside sites. In northwest Louisiana, the Bossier Parish Community College was designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the new Cyber Information Technology Program, which is preparing growing numbers of students for IT industry certifications relevant for companies such as CSC, which is opening a next-generation IT center across the street from the campus. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) recently joined forces to better understand the needs of the maritime workforce with forthcoming recommendations to scale up training in New Orleans and the Bayou region.

In every corner of our state and across a diverse array of sectors, these cases exemplify the hard work, coordination, and commitment shared by leaders in industry and Louisiana’s community and technical colleges. And there are many others. These efforts have led to a public agenda – Our Louisiana 2020 – that sets out a bold plan to meet the most pressing workforce challenges in Louisiana. While the ongoing budget debates swirl around the State Capitol, employers and educators around the state are staying focused on the task at hand – ensuring that Louisianans benefit from a historic opportunity for prosperity. 

Economic growth and individual opportunity can and must be advanced simultaneously in Louisiana. Throughout this upcoming legislative session, LABI and LCTCS will jointly promote the principles and best practices of public-private cooperation in policies and legislation that stand to benefit the state as a whole. Louisiana has made critical strides to improve workforce opportunities and economic growth, and that progress must continue.

Higher education and industry are relying on each other to get the job done. A strong pipeline of talent and skills from Louisiana’s colleges and universities are necessary to fill numerous and diverse opportunities with the promise of high-wage jobs and a better quality of life. We pledge to work together with the administration, the Legislature, and our partners across higher education to rise to the challenge, meet this goal, and continue to move Louisiana forward.