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|West Monroe chamber conducts workforce study|
The West Monroe-West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce may soon have a deeper understanding of the workforce training and development needs of its member businesses, thanks in part to a survey currently being circulated to businesses in the area.
Chamber President Mary Ann Newton said the survey was the chamber's attempt to determine the needs of its members.
"With all the information and discussion about workforce development and workforce initiatives, we want to make certain we have information that is recent and very specific to the needs of our chamber members in West Monroe and western Ouachita Parish," Newton said.
The nine-question, two page survey was distributed to members of the chamber late last week.
Newton said she began receiving responses almost immediately from some of the area's largest employers, including Graphic Packaging, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and Ouachita Independent Bank.
"Immediately we got those responses," Newton said. "So I think there is an appreciation when someone asks what their needs are and they get to respond, too."
The chamber survey covers a broad range of workforce development topics, from employee education and skills to reasons why job applicants are rejected.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris said the survey would be a valuable tool in addressing the specific training and educational needs of businesses in west Ouachita.
"It just helps to pinpoint exactly what employers are looking for that they are not finding," Norris said. "That's important information."
Norris added that the chamber could use the information gained from the survey to work with Ouachita Parish Schools and regional colleges and universities to help foster the skills employers need.
Norris said he does not know what to expect from the survey results.
"I'm anxious to see what does come out of it," Norris said. "I'm always interested in talking to employers who are having problems finding good employees and to know what the problems are."
Newton also said the survey would provide the chamber with information it needs to address workforce development issues.
"It's easy to endorse programs and initiatives," Newton said. "What we wanted to do at the chamber is to reach out to our membership and ask them what their needs are, where their weaknesses were and what they need from a workforce standpoint."
University of Louisiana-Monroe economist Bob Eisenstadt pointed to similar surveys conducted quarterly by the state Department of Labor.
Those surveys, however, focus on the 15 parishes of northeast Louisiana.
Newton pointed out the chamber's survey is aimed at addressing specific needs in western Ouachita Parish.
"We want to make certain all of our members are able to respond to questions and voice their needs," Newton said.
Eisenstadt said such surveys provide officials with valuable information as they attempt to address workforce needs and educational programs.
"Information has value to the extent that it can be incorporated into a decision and improves a decision," Eisenstadt said.
Newton said the chamber plans to share the results of the survey with area colleges and universities and high schools, the governor's office and Louisiana Economic Development Corp.
Both Norris and Newton said they have often spoken with employers about workforce development issues.
The most common complaint Newton heard was one of basic skills such as reading comprehension, mathematical skill or adequate writing ability.
"What we hear from a lot of people is the lack of a good work ethic," Newton said. "So many people will show up late to an interview for a job or be dressed inappropriately."
Norris said a frequent problem employers shared with him were potential employees who could not pass drug screenings but were otherwise qualified.
"Potential employees need to know that it's preventing them from getting jobs where they could probably perform pretty well," Norris said. "That's not a training issue, but it's a critical issue people need to understand."
Newton expected to continue receiving completed surveys through the May 16 deadline. Results would be available shortly thereafter, she said.