NEW ORLEANS — There’s a significant gap in New Orleans between the experience and education that available jobs require and the skills that the workforce has, according to a new study released by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.
While the economy shifts toward more knowledge-based industries, such as bio-innovation, digital media, advanced manufacturing and environmental industries, the training opportunities needed to prepare the workforce to fill those jobs are not keeping up, said Allison Plyer, chief demographer and director for the data center.
It’s good news that jobs are being created and new industries arriving and growing, but Plyer said the key is to figure out how to close the gap.
The “knowledge-based jobs” don’t necessarily require a four-year degree but do require training or education beyond high school, Plyer said.
And the report indicates that knowledge-based industries with middle- and high-skilled jobs are projected to account for more than half of all job openings by 2020.
The study also indicates that 27 percent of the working age population lacks literacy skills, including reading, writing, numeracy and computer skills.
While Plyer said that literacy can be challenging to measure, the study arrived at the 27 percent figure by looking at three groups: Working-age people without a high school diploma, those with no education past a high school diploma who are below 200 percent of the federally defined poverty level and people who speak English as a second language who have a high school diploma or less.
Those groups have been identified by the National Commission on Adult Literacy as being likely to lack literacy proficiency.
Plyer also pointed to the broader notion of literacy that includes the ability to learn new skills and to think critically.
The improvements in kindergarten through 12th-grade education are critical in the long-term, Plyer said.
However, according to the study, “in the short- and medium-term, we must upgrade and update the skills of the current working-age population who will make up the bulk of the labor pool for decades to come.”
Plyer said students currently in grades K-12 won’t fill the workforce until the year 2058.
The consequences of not actively addressing the disparities are dire, as the study concludes:
“Thus, if we fail to build the skills of native low-skilled workers, we will continue to have a surplus of adults with low skills, which contributes to high unemployment, high incarceration rates, lost productivity, and cash-strapped governments.”
Close communication and linkage between industry and educators is imperative to improving competitiveness in the current — and local — workforce, Plyer said.
New employers must articulate their needs and partner with educators to ensure that appropriate and continuously updated training opportunities are available and accessible — along with maximizing public funds, Plyer said.
Workforce development must be a priority for the city, the report says, and will require an “all hands on deck” approach with no quick fixes.