Going back to work may mean a new career

Many workers in North Louisiana are struggling because of the uncertainty of not knowing if, or when, their jobs will return. But they should be given some measure of hope in knowing that once the phased reopening of our state economy begins, a solid team of workforce and economic development partners is preparing to help them if their job is not restored immediately (or at all).

Based on surveys conducted by the North Louisiana Economic Partnership, many employers have indicated they expect to have the same jobs in place when Louisiana’s stay-at-home mandates are lifted. But some jobs will be lost because the businesses themselves may not be able to survive the pandemic-induced shutdown. Still other workers may have to wait until all phases of the recommended federal plan to reopen the economy are implemented and operations stabilize.

The point being, there may be thousands of North Louisiana residents who will not be able to return to their jobs following the pandemic, at least not for the foreseeable future. Unemployment insurance may be able to sustain some of these residents until they are back to work. But this may be an opportunity for others to make a career change. This crisis may present them with an opportunity to receive training that in all likelihood will be paid for partially or fully by government (state and/or federal).

From March 21 to April 11, there were 85,736 initial unemployment insurance claims from Louisiana residents in the Accommodation & Food Service industry, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Using a real-time data tool called EMSI, NLEP ran analysis of this industry throughout North Louisiana (which included casinos), and the occupation with the highest number of jobs is waiter/waitress. Next, we ran a report showing the skills transferability of this occupation compared with other occupations (meaning there is skills compatibility between the two), and further refined it by looking at healthcare occupations that have a high degree of skills transferability with waiter/waitress.

We then further refined the results to home in on occupations that have shown increased demand in North Louisiana over the last three years, and among those which ones have a median wage of at least $12.50 per hour ($25,000 annual). The four occupations with the highest compatibility index that meet these criteria are Dental Assistant, Phlebotomist, Medical Assistant, Physical Therapy Assistant and Medical Transcriptionist (to learn about these jobs visit www.onetonline.org/find). 

There are programs that train for all of these occupations, ranging in depth from Certificate to Associate degrees, at one or more of the community and technical colleges and continuing education departments at certain four-year universities in North Louisiana: Southern University at Shreveport, Northwest Louisiana Technical Community College, Bossier Parish Community College, Ayers Career College, Louisiana Delta Community College, LSUS and University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Over the past two years and with coordination and support from the NLEP, 12 North Louisiana parishes went through training to become certified ACT Work Ready Communities and during this process they formed a consortium called North Louisiana Ready2Work. This consortium is comprised of professionals from K-12 and higher education, workforce and economic development, chambers and local government. This group meets regularly and is highly collaborative in creating programs and funding to get residents into training for high-demand, good paying jobs. 

The COVID-19 crisis has only strengthened North Louisiana Ready2Work’s commitment to close the skills gap in our local and regional economy. This group will be here to serve our residents in need by connecting them to jobs and training for new careers when Louisiana reopens its economy. To learn more about North Louisiana Ready2Work and the participating organizations, visit www.northlouisianaready2work.org.

Angie White | Executive Vice President and Workforce Initiatives Director at the North Louisiana Economic Partnership.