A STATE’S PERSPECTIVE: HOW LOUISIANA FOSTERS COLLABORATION BETWEEN INDUSTRY AND EDUCATION
Louisiana is experiencing significant industrial construction growth, spurred by the low cost of natural gas and an overall improved business climate. This has attracted numerous large new businesses and unprecedented investments in new plants and expansions, including a $21 billion gas-to-liquid conversion plant. As a result, Louisiana will need 86,000 skilled craft workers by 2016 due to industry growth and employee attrition.
Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC), formerly Louisiana’s Department of Labor, is an aggressive advocate for a trained, viable workforce and is committed to employment strategies for Louisiana citizens that respond to industry’s workforce demands. LWC and the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council (LWIC) were formed in 2008 as part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s workforce development reforms that created a demand-driven system responsive to the needs of business and industry.
LWIC consists of state agencies and representatives from industry and education and serves to develop a strategic plan to coordinate and integrate a workforce development delivery system. LWIC is dedicated to working closely with employers, educators, workers and job seekers to strategically meet the state’s employment and training needs. In addition to its annual occupational forecasting, LWIC contracted with Louisiana State University in 2013 to conduct a comprehensive, occupational forecast for the industrial construction industry, which indicated a critical demand for skilled labor.
To address the skills gap, LWIC formed the Craft Task Force, which brought together industry, various state agencies, high schools, technical colleges, and private training providers. The Craft Task Force decided that career and technical education (CTE) needed to be based on standardized curricula. Industry then determined that NCCER credentials were ideal, so the technical colleges agreed to focus on short-term, compressed NCCER training for students, particularly Levels 1 and 2 in the highest-demand skilled crafts occupations such as electrician, carpentry, millwright, and pipefitter.
Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS), which is comprised of 13 Louisiana community and technical colleges, and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) agreed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU). This MOU provided LCTCS members without suitable facilities for CTE with access to ABC’s well-equipped facilities, which filled a critical void for the colleges and even allowed for additional dual enrollment opportunities for high school students. In addition, ABC agreed to share craft instructors with LCTCS to help overcome a shortage in qualified instructors.
Historically, Louisiana high schools required students in eighth grade to select one of three tracks offered: career, basic and university diplomas. In this system, only 1 percent of students would select the career track.
In response to this misalignment between K-12 educational programs and Louisiana’s future job openings in the skilled crafts, the Louisiana Department of Education, along with the industry partners on the LWIC, advocated restructuring how high schools provide CTE offerings on a statewide, legislative level. In 2014, the legislature created two tracks – university and career – and changed the curriculum so that students do not have to pick a track until after their sophomore year. Delaying the track selection allows students to take the same classes for the first two years of high school, which means a student who switches tracks prior to his or her junior year is not behind in their coursework.
A core component of graduating from the new career-oriented track is a requirement to have an industry-based certificate, which ties back into how schools are funded. From a state level, each certificate is assigned a point value that directly corresponds to industry’s needs. Schools earn points through graduation rates, as well as how many and what types of certificates their students earn. LWIC prioritizes certificates based on the feedback from industry representatives with input from educators. Certificates on the State Focus List approved by the LWIC receive the highest number of points, and most of NCCER’s certificates are in the highest priority category. Schools earn more funding by increasing the number of points their students obtain.
There are two main benefits of collaborating: 1) students are able to obtain great, high-paying craft careers right out of school, and 2) employers are able to hire qualified, young workers who can be further developed and trained. Also, businesses are able to hire locally to suit the specific needs of their industry since they have contributed to the development of the area’s workforce. This process helps Louisiana communities grow stronger as businesses hire local craft professionals.
LWIC’s success is the result of bringing together stakeholders that have a vested interest in each other’s success – industry and education. As the craft industry in Louisiana faces a potential shortage of qualified workers and schools are trying to place students into successful, well-paying careers, LWIC is able to facilitate significant legislative changes and long-term collaboration to help make this happen.