N.O. study forecasts demand for skilled labor to quadruple

The demand for skilled workers in southeast Louisiana will quadruple in the coming years, as baby boomers retire and billions in petrochemical and manufacturing facilities come on line, according to a study released Thursday by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.

It is an issue the state is addressing, having approved a plan in mid-2013 to meet demand.

The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center report estimated $21 billion in investments in petrochemicals, advanced manufacturing and the energy industry will generate jobs in southeast Louisiana. Most of the 42,000 openings will be for “middle-skilled” workers, those with a high school degree and various levels of training, such as welders, machinists and pump operators, the report said.

The median pay for those jobs is between $15 and $35 an hour.

The median is the midpoint. Half the jobs pay more than those amounts and half pay less.

Keeping up with the demand for those workers will be an enormous challenge, not just regionally but nationally, according to the study.

The report says one untapped source is potential workers in southeast Louisiana’s cities and suburbs.

“Organizations working to reduce income inequality will be key to maximizing these job opportunities for local residents,” according to the report. “Community and technical colleges will need expanded capacity.”

Industry must have a hand in designing courses and should help with transportation to bring workers from population centers to work sites along the Mississippi River and elsewhere, the report said. The task is complex and will require significant investment, but done right it will infuse a new group of “outstanding people and ideas” into the economy.

WIC, a panel of business leaders that advises the governor and the Louisiana Workforce Commission on the state’s workforce needs, approved in mid-2013 a plan called “Building Louisiana’s Craft Workforce.”

At the time, Louisiana faced a statewide need for an additional 86,300 skilled craft workers by 2016 to build more than $60 billion in new petrochemical and chemical plants and plant expansions proposed in the state. More expansions have been announced since then.

The plan includes a number of facets, from making sure 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. The state joined with the Build Your Future Initiative, a national program that seeks to increase the number of construction workers. Promotional material that discusses good wages available for skilled construction workers has been developed. A website, www.louisiana.byf.org, was launched.

WIC also approved revised occupational forecasts in mid-2013.

The forecasts indicated Louisiana will need nearly 78,000 new workers each year through 2020 to fill all the jobs that are expected to be available.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission noted that this 1.6 percent annual job growth rate is better than the national forecast of 1.5 percent.

The plan to help meet demand was developed by a coalition of business, industry, labor unions and government organizations who worked together for several months.