The number and quality of skilled workers in Louisiana is dismal, according to a recent report evaluating the state’s manufacturing abilities.
The 2011 Manufacturing and Logistics National Report by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Indiana gave Louisiana a failing grade in the important area of “human capital.”
All 50 states were included in the study.
The areas that the study graded and scores for Louisiana were a C in manufacturing industry health; a B in logistic industry health; a C in benefit costs; a C+ in global reach; a B in productivity and innovation; a C in tax climate; a C in diversification; and a D in venture capital.
Louisiana, like most of its Southern neighbors, received a failing grade in human capital, which is viewed as a state’s capacity to attract and retain a skilled workforce.
Top scorers in this area went to states like New Hampshire, Nebraska, Minnesota, Washington and a handful of other Northern states.
The quality and availability of skilled workers is regarded as one of the top concerns for businesses, the Ball State study concluded.
And improving it lies in improving kindergarten through 12th-grade public schools, said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the author of the report.
“Human capital is devilishly hard and slow to remedy,” Hicks said. “It is abundantly clear that it is K-12 education in which the problems lie, though.”
Louisiana’s F-grade in human capital was derived from researchers analyzing rankings of educational attainment at the high school and collegiate level, first-year retention rates in community and technical colleges, the number of associate degrees awarded annually and the share of adults enrolled in adult basic education.
Only looking at the big picture statistics like educational attainment may not offer the most detailed and clear view of Louisiana’s job-skills situation, said Stephen Moret, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.
“Macro measures of human capital like educational attainment, retention rates and associate degrees awarded don’t necessarily indicate the quality of employees that a specific business can secure,” Moret said.
“For example, with FastStart, we have transformed workforce issues from a top concern of companies considering significant new projects in Louisiana into one of our top selling points,” he added, referring to the Louisiana FastStart program launched in 2008. The program offers job training for new and expanding companies in the state and has gained national recognition.
FastStart may be one of the state’s few bragging rights for some time to come.
The Louisiana Legislature is in the middle of approving the state’s $3.4 billion budget for public K-12 education. However, assuming the measure is approved as presented, this will mark the third year of frozen funding for the state’s 1,300 public schools, which educate some 668,000 students. And even though student scores on standardized tests have improved in recent years, latest results show that one in three students are still performing below grade level.
Job-training programs like FastStart are helpful, said Wicks, but they do not take the place of comprehensive education reform and improvement - an admittedly larger challenge.
“Efforts to streamline training and educational programs among adults is fine, but if you don’t tackle K-12 then it is just applying new paint to a rusty Chevy,” he remarked.
Moret agreed, saying the state’s public school system needs to pick up the pace, and added Louisiana could also benefit from a better community college system, which generally does a good job of aligning workers with the training they need.
“The bottom line is that we need to employ a balanced, aggressive approach to cultivating human capital in Louisiana, including continued K-12 education reforms, expansion of the community and technical college system, better alignment of our research universities with current and future business needs,” he said.
Louisiana’s failing 2011 grade in human capital is not a recent slip. The state scored an F in this category in 2009 and 2010 as well, according to past Manufacturing and Logistics National Reports.
No state was a winner in all areas the study reviewed, though Indiana, Utah and Virginia faired reasonably well in most areas.
Northeastern states tended to score poorly in the area of tax climate, which analyzes business, individual, sales and other taxes.
The Midwest tended to score poorly when it came to benefits cost and the Plains states did not score well when it came to attracting venture capital, according to the study.
Manufacturing is still expected to continue to rebound, Hicks added.
Manufacturing production will almost certainly have a record year in 2011 and again in 2012, but employment nationwide will be highly varied across states, he said.
“Some states, such as Indiana, have seen a real turnaround in manufacturing employment since the end of the recession - up 4.6 percent - while the nation as a whole has seen one in 50 manufacturing jobs lost,” Hicks said in a statement.