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|State officials promote workforce reform|
Several state officials visited Monroe Thursday to tout workforce reform, which they hope to implement in Louisiana over the next several years.
Gov. Bobby Jindal last week signed a workforce development reform bill that changes the name of Louisiana Department of Labor to Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Tim Barfield, executive director of Louisiana Workforce Commission, said the task of implementing workforce reform measures will entail more than just a name change for the labor department.
He said the commission will make the changes necessary to ensure workforce development works in Louisiana.
"We want it to be the best in the country," Barfield said. "This is another opportunity for us to go from average, or below average, to be the best in the country."
"It's about leadership, and we're charged with making sure we all understand the needs and challenges of business and industry," Barfield continued. "A lot of the stuff we're doing is not rocket science. These are issues that have been recognized, developed and worked on, with numerous task forces out there recommending things."
The commission will be responsible for making sure the state's citizens obtain necessary training and education so they can provide new and existing businesses and industry with the skilled workforce they need.
"It's a simple concept, but we've got to connect the dots, and we've got to take a multitude of agencies and a multitude of stakeholders and integrate them into one system," Barfield said.
"We can do a lot better with the resources we have in the system, but it's going to take a while to get everybody working on the same page," he added.
Over the next several years, the commission will review specific programs and review workforce development models in other states, so Louisiana can "learn from their mistakes," Barfield said.
The workforce reform agenda includes strengthening the community and technical college system in workforce development; improving the response to workforce shortages in high-demand occupations; improving the state's capacity to respond to new business and industry needs and expansion opportunities; and integrating workforce development and social support programs at various agencies to provide a one-stop service for businesses and job seekers.
One of the first goals of the commission will focus on expanding workforce development to help fill roughly 100,000 job vacancies in Louisiana.
"We have to get people to come back to Louisiana, or to have people come to Louisiana for the first time," Barfield said.
Dr. Joe May, president of Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said the "stars are aligned right now" to find solutions for these problems the state has faced for years.
May mentioned House Bill 1018, which Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to sign soon, as a means to improve workforce development within the state. This legislation establishes a $10-million workforce training rapid response fund that will provide the community and technical college system financial backing to address workforce needs whenever they arise.
When the hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana in 2005, May said workforce needs in the state changed overnight. Suddenly, the state needed more construction workers.
May said the rapid response fund will help the community and technical college system address changes in the workforce, whether they are brought about by natural disasters, or a new industry that needs hundreds of workers right away.
The workforce reform legislation also provides $3 million to the Department of Economic Development's fast start program, which enables workers to attend expedited classes and training so they can more quickly enter the workforce.
Another $4.5 million was given to the Department of Education to expand career and technical education opportunities for public school students.