Report: Baton Rouge needs more skilled workers

The Baton Rouge area is one of five major U.S. manufacturing centers experiencing a severe or significant shortage of skilled workers, according to a report by The Boston Consulting Group.

With about $60 billion in industrial expansions underway or planned in Louisiana, much of that in the industrial corridor along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and around Lake Charles, officials here have estimated the state has a need for an additional 86,300 skilled craft workers by 2016.

The Louisiana Workforce Investment Council, a panel of business leaders that advises the governor and the Louisiana Workforce Commission on the state’s workforce needs, approved a detailed plan in June on how to help the state meet the impending demand for skilled crafts workers.

The The Boston Consulting Group’s report questions whether the United States really faces a manufacturing-skills crisis and finds most shortages are localized.

The other major manufacturing centers experiencing a skilled-worker shortage are Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; San Antonio, Texas; and Wichita, Kan.

The Boston Consulting Group estimates that the United States is short around 80,000 to 100,000 highly skilled manufacturing workers. Those numbers represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s total manufacturing workforce and less than 8 percent of the country’s 1.4 million highly skilled workers.

“Our research finds little evidence of a meaningful and persistent skills gap in most parts of the U.S., including in its most important manufacturing zones,” the report says. “We believe such fears are overblown — at least for the near term.”

The real problem is that companies have been too passive in recruiting and developing skilled workers while the education system has moved away from a focus on manufacturing skills, the report says.

The Greater Baton Rouge Industrial Alliance Inc. has worked with educators, state agencies and other trade associations for nearly two years to raise awareness of the need for more skilled craft workers.

Several members of the trade associations are supporting pilot programs to reach out to more Louisianians to start training for the coming demand.

The Louisiana Workforce Investment Council plan, “Building Louisiana’s Craft Workforce,” approved in June was developed by a coalition of business, industry, labor unions and government organizations who worked together for several months.

The plan includes a number of facets, from making sure that Pell Grants can be used to pay for training classes at community and technical colleges, to having career counselors work with middle and high school students so they consider careers in the industrial construction industry, to getting more state money to pay for worker training.