The gist: Jobs of the future require degrees or certifications, but Acadiana’s workforce isn’t educated enough, according to business leaders. At a summit last week, One Acadiana launched 55 by 25, a community-wide effort to boost the number of workers holding post-secondary certificates or diplomas to 55 percent of the population by 2025.
About 40 percent of the working age population in Acadiana has a degree or certificate. The region ranks fifth in the state. Louisiana ranks 48th in the nation. By 2025 regional attainment is projected to rise organically to 44 percent, meaning there’s an 11-point gap the initiative aims to close. That’s about 44,000 people to credential.
“We’re going to wage war on allowing our citizens to be uneducated,” says Dr. Natalie Harder, chancellor of South Louisiana Community College, a speaker at the summit.
It ends with diplomas but starts with childhood. The initiative aims to improve readiness for kindergarten. Louisiana lags in early childhood education, a key indicator of post-secondary success. Harder says there’s low-hanging fruit too: adults who have left college degrees incomplete but have enough credits to get an associate’s degree.
Lafayette’s already on track; it’s the rest of Acadiana that’s lagging. When you combine college degrees, associate’s degrees, and certifications, Lafayette Parish’s workforce is already at 52 percent. Given a projected organic increase of 5-6 percent across Acadiana, that means Lafayette’s on track already. But the rest of the parish is much further behind, bringing the region’s average down to only at about 40 percent. Lafayette still has a lot to gain, because when employers consider moving here, they look at the quality of the workforce across the region.
The state announced a goal of 60 percent by 2030. Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, commissioner of higher education for the Louisiana Board of Regents and the summit’s keynote speaker, announced that state goal in her remarks.
“Let’s all just agree that a smarter workforce is better,” says Jim Bourgeois, One Acadiana’s VP for economic development. Companies have increasingly emphasized workforce education in site selection, meaning as Acadiana fails to educate, it fails to compete for more jobs. Still, there’s a growing recognition that, site selectors be damned, education is intrinsically important, even when it’s not linked to employer recruitment.