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|Monroe chamber announces support for workforce reform proposals|
The Monroe Chamber of Commerce has thrown its support behind Gov. Bobby Jindal's workforce development legislation, which would give local communities more control over workforce development efforts.
In February, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry announced it would get behind legislation in the regular legislative session to revamp the state Department of Labor to give more oversight to local Workforce Investment Boards and to provide more funding and flexibility for focused career training, especially for high demand fields.
A package of bills aimed at revamping workforce development in Louisiana is moving through the legislative process in the Regular Session.
Bob Griffin, chairman for the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, said, "We believe this will create the structure necessary to meet the employment and training needs of business and industry throughout Louisiana."
During meetings over the past several years, local business leaders have said their greatest concern has been the need for more trained and skilled employees.
For a variety of reasons, area employers have encountered difficulties in hiring enough trained workers for their businesses, Griffin said.
"The problem is not a lack of people wanting to work," Griffin said. "Even with a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, we have many people searching for jobs in our area. The real problem is that there is a disconnect between the skills required to fill available jobs and those searching for employment."
He said those findings mirror a recent survey of U.S. manufacturers in which 90 percent reported moderate to severe shortages of skilled workers.
A 2004 Council for a Better Louisiana survey also noted that more than 70 percent of employers in Louisiana have a difficult time finding qualified workers. In addition, almost 40 percent reported that recruitment is more difficult today than it was five years ago. Estimates are that more than 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. require at least some postsecondary education, and 63 percent of the fastest growing jobs require a college degree.
"We can increase employment in Ouachita Parish if we better align the skills of our workforce with available, high-demand jobs in our region," said chamber president Sue Nicholson.
"Gov. Jindal's workforce development legislation will help create a demand driven workforce system that will engage employers and create a more responsive, nimble and streamlined process that will better meet employer needs," Nicholson said.
In addition, she said it will increase training capacity by providing additional funding for community and technical colleges as well as create a pool of funds that will allow training providers to respond more rapidly to identified training gaps.
Under the proposed legislation, local workforce investment boards would be the point of contact for the business community. The boards would oversee the programs, develop workforce initiatives and govern how workforce needs are met in each community, according to LABI officials.
Each workforce investment board would be charged with establishing and operating localized programs relative to education, training and employment for its area. The boards would be responsible for administering those programs as well as the one-stop career centers in each district.
A workforce commission would verify the boards are meeting general benchmarks for performance. It would also serve as fiscal manager for the system, and it would issue block grants to fund the programs the boards establish.
If the LABI-backed legislation is approved by the Legislature, the current secretary of labor would become the commission's executive director. He would have up to one year to bring the various programs into the new commission.
The LABI proposal also calls for 80 percent of the funding that is currently earmarked for the current system redirected to local workforce investment boards.