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|Workforce task force takes shape|
The Northeast Louisiana Workforce Planning Task Force is now working on plans to better address issues such as the region's workforce needs and dropout rate among high school students.
The task force held its second meeting Wednesday at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce's office.
Chuck Bradshaw of Holyfield Construction, the chamber's vice president of workforce development, facilitated the event.
The goal of the task force is to come up with short-term solutions to address the immediate needs of the region and develop a long-range plan to provide for better workforce training and educational opportunities.
"We're still in the planning stages, trying to put together a skeleton plan to address the educational system and reduce the dropout rate as well as improve the quality of workforce development to give our employers the people they need to do the jobs that need to be done," Bradshaw said.
He said the group is looking at the various needs of the northeast Louisiana region. He said it would be a daunting task since each area in the region has different needs.
"The needs in East and West Carroll may be different than Ouachita Parish," Bradshaw explained. "They are more rural and there are different issues such as transportation and poverty that need to be addressed."
He said the group wants input from the business community, school systems and governmental bodies to help tailor a plan that meets the needs of each area in northeast Louisiana.
"We're trying to work together to make some improvement in the graduation rate and the quality of our graduates," Bradshaw explained. "We also need workforce training in place to produce electricians, brick layers and all the different skills that are necessary for the community."
The group hopes school systems will incorporate more career training in high schools similar to what took place in the 1970s.
"Students may decide in junior high school that they really don't want to be a mathematician because there aren't any mathematician jobs and it doesn't interest them, but they really want to learn about auto-mechanics," he said.
Also, life skills such as money management need to be taught in local schools, Bradshaw said.
"Why aren't we spending our educational money to teach them how to be a good citizen, how to get a loan and how to set a budget up for their family?" Bradshaw continued. "At the same time we are teaching them reading, writing and math, why wouldn't we focus our money on teaching them how to be a skilled, certified auto-mechanic? So, when they graduate, they will be able to get a job, pay taxes, raise a family and be self-supportive. And, if they choose to go on and get a college degree, they will have the high school diploma to do so."
He said students who drop out of high school do not have many choices. While some can overcome the obstacle, there are too many roadblocks preventing high school drop outs from succeeding in life.
"Right now, we've got too many people dropping out of school and they can't support themselves, and they really have no choices," he said. "We're trying to give them more choices, and the jobs we're trying to prepare them for are those that do have better wages, benefits and some kind of career improvement ladder.
"We're looking at what we can do with our educators and our politicians to improve the system to produce a better product. So, when students get out of school, or out of the workforce training, they will have a better chance to survive, raise a family, stay locally, and be tax payers, instead of being a tax consumer on the community."
Bradshaw said there are numerous issues that need to be addressed immediately, such as teen pregnancy, drug abuse and truancy. Also, children from Pre-K to fourth grade must have the resources available to help them succeed. The task force agrees that the most critical time to ensure a child moves in the right direction is from Pre-K to fourth grade.
"We're finding out when children come to school, they are not at the level they need to be," Bradshaw said. "When they fall behind, they get further and further behind and a good percentage of them will drop out."
In some cases, children may need more one-on-one attention, and that could call for more teachers and smaller classrooms. However, he said that will be an investment that will better the community in the future.
He said by investing early in these children, the community could prevent long-term problems that occur in junior high school.
The task force hopes to have plans finalized to present to regional leaders in the coming months, Bradshaw said.