Our Views: Louisiana should focus on 'middle skill' jobs that don't require four-year degree _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu talks at the dedication celebration of the new University Medical Center in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015.

While all is not sunny in Louisiana’s economic outlook, the number of jobs in the state overall is growing. This is happening despite a recent fall in jobs in metropolitan New Orleans, apparently because of a decline in hurricane reconstruction projects, and losses in oil and gas exploration and services. Yet the losses elsewhere have been offset by continued growth in metropolitan Baton Rouge and in the Lake Charles area, where a boom in petrochemical construction is driving job numbers.

But even as we celebrate the growth across the state in both technology jobs and in the oil and gas mainstays of our economy, the craft trades, health care and professional services offer good jobs at good wages.

In a meeting with Advocate editors and reporters, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently noted the region’s initiatives to link the underemployed with jobs — to overcome hurdles in transportation and education. During the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it’s particularly relevant because of a decline in the demand for construction workers; there is a natural ebb in reconstruction spending over time.

There also is a serious impact in the oil patch, particularly in the Lafayette and Houma areas, as job cuts have followed last year’s sharp decline in oil prices.

Where Louisiana has an opportunity going forward is in jobs that require training or apprenticeships post-high school, but not at the level of a four-year degree from a university, or even a full two-year associate degree from a community college.

That opportunity beckons not only in greater New Orleans but in the entire state.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, in a new report, focuses on what are often called “middle skill” jobs, the craft trades and health care service workers who can make good livings at what they do.

“Many of the new jobs coming online require an associate’s degree or less,” BRAC President Adam Knapp said. “These are high-wage jobs, in high-growth industries that represent tremendous professional opportunities for our citizens.”

That report outlines several ways in which industry and government can work together to develop or expand training opportunities for these new openings.

In conjunction with BRAC, the Center for Planning Excellence will release a companion report — “Entering the Pipeline: Engaging Disconnected Workers in our Regional Economy” — identifying barriers that prevent workers from training for the high-demand fields and how resources can be better used to engage the underserved.

Particularly as the anniversaries of hurricanes Katrina and Rita pass, there ought to be a new emphasis on these jobs. We don’t believe that focus should be at the expense of those able and willing to get a four-year degree; a college education is still one of the best investments in the future a family can make. But there are a lot of jobs to be done, and these “middle skill” jobs promise a good salary and other benefits for a family — something that no economic development specialist should ignore.