With billions of dollars in projects underway and planned in St. Charles Parish, the River Parishes Chamber of Commerce has initiated efforts to hold a workforce development forum in fall.
“We have thousands of people here,” said Chamber Chair Annette Wray. “But they’re not able to meet this demand and we want to know why.”
Wray estimated new growth could generate an estimated 4,000 direct jobs in the River Parishes.
Chamber members, mostly small business owners, have raised the need to create a more efficient training-to-jobs path for prospective workers. In response, the chamber wants to position itself to start the momentum and allow area leaders to identify the next steps, she said.
“We do have technical and community colleges available to offer this training, but for some reason we’re still having a gap,” Wray said. “The only way we’re going to find out is we put everybody in one room.”
Tommy Scott, executive director of the parish’s workforce development, said they are seeing plant expansions and new companies coming to the area.
“We’re trying to work with the chamber and technical college to identify types of training these people would need to apply for these jobs and seriously be considered for these jobs,” Scott said. “Over the years, we’ve witnessed some outsourcing and sometimes it can be difficult to fill these positions, but now we want to have a list of qualified individuals available and they can make the hiring decisions.”
The goal, according to Scott, is to have the most qualified workforce possible throughout the River Region.
Parish presidents Larry Cochran, Natalie Robottom and Timmy Roussel have all signed on in support of the effort, he said.
“It’s important that we have the cooperation and collaboration of our regional companies to make this successful, Scott said. “That is No. 1.”
According to Wray, some 70 percent of chamber members are small business owners with the rest being industries and nonprofits.
Chamber assistance is typically focused on providing support and resources, but Wray said workforce development, particularly for more qualified workers, has been increasingly surfacing as a concern by chamber members.
“Listening to all these people discuss this, the chamber is serving as a catalyst to bring our industry leaders, education leaders, government and nonprofit organizations in one room and truly discuss what are the gaps,” she said. “On one side, we have a demand for jobs and they can tell us what they need, such as identifying what these candidates’ strengths and challenges are.”
The goal is to match worker skills to employer needs.
“We need to get our citizens ready,” Wray said. “There is so much opportunity out there.”
Based on Wray’s research, there are many organizations in the River Parishes that want a workforce initiative in both technical and soft skills such as interviewing and social skills.
Wray said the chamber wants to refocus career emphasis from only going to college to also include a career prep environment.
According to her findings, 59 percent of Louisiana students went to college and around 20 percent of the difference found full- or part-time work. The next question, according to Wray, is whether they are making a living wage.
“I’d like to start finding out what organizations are out there actually providing training and soft skills,” she said. “I think we can make it more efficient for everyone and get more out of these dollars used for this training.”