State website will match employers and job seekers

The dating game between employers and skilled workers is about to become easier in Louisiana.

On Aug. 18, state officials will make a free, online, matchmaking employment service available for the first time to both employers and job seekers who want only their top options.

The Louisiana Job Connection, commissioned by the state Department of Economic Development, is intended to match the skills and experience of job applicants to the expressed needs of employers. The service arrives at a time when energy, chemical and other manufacturers are set to begin construction on more than $60 billion in new industrial facilities or expansions.

More jobs are on the way, according to projections of the Louisiana Workforce Commission and LSU Division of Economic Development.

From next year through 2022, the LWC expects jobs in the New Orleans metropolitan area to grow 6.1 percent to 620,950; 8.4 percent to 513,760 jobs in the Baton Rouge area; and nearly 8.0 percent to 330,170 in the Lafayette area.

The question remaining to be answered is: Who will fill those slots and others across the state?

“We like to equate it to online dating,” said Kristi Barnett Williams, executive director at Louisiana Job Connection.

Some online dating services, however, attract liars who conceal marital status, criminal convictions or other problems that might result in rejections by potential mates.

Williams said the lists of questions for employers and job applicants at www.louisianajobconnection.com are designed to provide both sides information that can be checked easily for accuracy.

Both sides also can consider the significance of questions that remain unanswered on the online forms, Williams said. Both sides will know the quickest way to hire an applicant or find a job is to be comprehensive and honest.

“We’re moving away from searching technology and moving toward matching technology,” Williams added. “We want to make sure quality people can find quality jobs.”

Employers whose expenditures are strictly outside Louisiana cannot exploit the new website to raid in-state talent, she noted.

“We’re limiting employer participation to businesses that pay Louisiana payroll taxes,” Williams said. “They have to do work in this state. They have to employ people in this state. They have to have a Louisiana tax identification number.”

Absent that valid ID number, an employer will be frozen out of the LJC online program, Williams said.

There is no such geographical restriction on job applicants.

“The job seeker side (of the website) is open to anyone in the world,” Williams said.

“We are anticipating quite a bit of job-seeker activity on Aug. 18,” she said. “There’s an enormous buzz in the employer community, as well.”

Stephen Moret, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, agreed with Williams that the new website should help match employers and workers.

Moret emphasized, however, the LJC website is expected to be heavily used by companies building or expanding facilities that will require large numbers of skilled workers.

“All kinds of engineers will be needed,” Moret said. He added demand is expected to be heavy for skills ranging from accounting to welding to maintenance of computing, mechanical or other plant systems.

The majority of post-construction jobs at the new or expanded facilities, however, will be professional or technical, he said.

“Again, we’re not limiting use of the website in any way,” Moret emphasized.

Moret noted, though, many of the workers hired in large numbers for post-construction jobs will need skills, experience and/or education in science, technology, engineering or math — the so-called STEM skills.

Louisiana Workforce Commission projections, Moret said, indicate Louisiana businesses need 1,120 information technology workers by the end of this year. Those jobs typically require a four-year degree and command an average annual salary of $66,838 in this state.

Louisiana also needs an estimated 1,140 electrical workers this year, LWC projections show.

Those jobs require either a two-year degree, state or craft certification or completion of an apprenticeship. They pay an average annual salary of $46,480 in Louisiana.

“These (STEM) jobs generally are associated with economic-driver firms … that bring wealth to Louisiana,” Moret said. “To the extent that we can fill all of these openings, many other jobs will be created in other sectors, such as health care and education.”

Moret said examples of economic-driver companies include “manufacturing facilities, corporate headquarters and software development centers.”

What does organized labor think of the LJC?

Louis Reine, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, said he initially had concerns the new website would simply duplicate services already provided by the workforce commission.

“My understanding, it’s more top-end jobs than middle-class jobs,” said Reine. “Whatever helps men and women of Louisiana get good jobs, I support it 100 percent. That’s what they (economic development officials) told me this would do.”

LWC Executive Director Curt Eysink said members of his staff have been working with Moret’s staff to entwine their two different job-search tools.

“At this point, Louisiana Workforce Commission’s (online) job posting and application functions are not integrated with Louisiana Job Connection,” Eysink said.

“However, plans are to begin that integration in late August,” Eysink added. “Much of the work is already mapped, and development should not take very long.”

Tom Guarisco, LWC communications director, said the commission’s existing online employment tools and those of the LJC are more complementary than duplicative.

A big difference in the two free online services, Guarisco explained, is the LWC’s job seekers are able to see all positions that employers are attempting to fill. There is no LWC filter to limit views of job vacancies to a matching range of applicants specified by employers, such as the top 90 percent to 100 percent possible at the LJC.

That’s not the only difference, according to the LJC’s Williams.

For example, Williams said, job seekers will be encouraged by the LJC computer program to post their career-history information on Linkedin and then scrape copies onto their LJC online submissions.

She said such action discourages applicants from playing liar’s poker by increasing the odds that false statements would be exposed by Linkedin’s popularity.

Job seekers, though, will be able to label their LJC submissions as “public, semi-private or private,” Williams said.

The “public” label allows any LJC-authorized employer to look at any job applicant’s information, she said. The “semi-private” label allows an applicant’s information to be viewed only by employers whose specified needs match the reported skills and experience of the job seeker.

A job applicant who labels his or her information “private” effectively blocks all employers from seeing those online submissions, Williams said. That means it will be up to the job seeker to personally submit her or his employment application to any potential employers identified as good matches for her or his skills and ambitions.

Such job seekers may not want their current employers to know they are casting their nets for better pay or job conditions, Williams explained. In those situations, the “private” label is the only means to prevent discovery of a job search.

Williams said the new website uses an algorithm to match applicants to employers within specified ranges — 70 percent to 100 percent, for example. Employers can set their match-making ranges, and job applicants can do the same.

Before the algorithm begins a search, Williams explained, a long list of questions is answered by both sides.

The process takes about 20 minutes, she said. Both sides should receive a list of matches within 24 hours, if not instantly.

The questions posed to employers, as well as those asked of applicants, are designed to make those matches as accurately as possible.

Project costs are expected to total about $750,000 by Aug. 18, Williams said.

Moret’s staff spearheaded the project, Williams said, but Baton Rouge startup Covalent Logic LLC was selected as agency of record. That firm then coordinated all other companies brought into the project, including another local startup, Vinformatix LLC.

“Covalent Logic is thrilled to be the agency of record for … this project,” said Stafford Kendall, one of the firm’s owners.

“Vinformatix is honored to be a part of the project that will make a difference in the Louisiana economy,” said Padma Vatsavai, an owner of the startup based at LSU’s technology incubator.

The LJC is described by state officials as the most advanced program of its kind in the nation.

When state economic development officials began looking for ways to accurately match workers’ skills to employers’ needs, Williams said, they discovered a dearth of existing online programs.

“There was no other skills-matching, job-recruiting tool that we knew of,” Williams said. “We know of no other today.”

The new website will open free of charge. Will that change in the future for either employers or job applicants?

“It’s free on both sides, and it always will be,” Williams said. “It’s free, free, free.”