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U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy speaks with Graciana Breaux, Simulation and Skills Lab coordinator, left, and Chancellor Natalie Harder while touring the South Louisiana Community College's Health and Sciences Building. The medical dummy is a high-fidelity pediatric sim used by patients going into the medical field.

Jobs in health care will likely be the highest in demand as the region and state emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, one higher education official said.

Jermaine Ford, vice president of workforce and economic development at South Louisiana Community College, said Tuesday that data indicates health care jobs will be in “tremendous demand.” His comments were part of a One Acadiana webinar with higher education officials.

Other areas include industrial and structural fields; the college also has been getting lots of inquiries related to CDL and maritime jobs.

“The sad truth is pre-COVID-19, there were needs in some areas,” Ford said. “Post-COVID-19, we just don’t know all the areas but we do know there is going to be a tremendous demand in health care. We’re really looking to see in the next six months what this is going to look like, even though industry experts actually say the next 18 months are going to be the real forecast.”

The number of unemployed workers as the result of the COVID-19 shutdown could send more people back to school for job training. By the end of the week of May 9, Lafayette Parish had more than 32,000 initial unemployment claims filed since the shutdown began. The eight-parish Acadiana region has reported nearly 75,000.

The Lafayette area may be slower at recovery than Baton Rouge and New Orleans, according to Gary Wagner, Acadiana Business Economist with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The state’s unemployment, he noted, is expected to peak at 18.4% in the second quarter with 339,000 jobs expected to be lost in the first and second quarters.

At LSU-Eunice, school officials have aligned with Opelousas General Hospital and Lafayette General Hospital to meet their workforce needs, President Nancee Sorenson said. Programs of focus include medical coding and billing along with phlebotomy, but the college is also offering certificates in accounting and fire and protective services.

“Our economy is in a state of pivoting and refocusing into other areas,” Sorenson said. “I think there’s a vast number of small businesses in our area. We really want to get those small businesses back on their feet and functioning again with the kind of skilled workers they need.”

SLCC and other institutions were in a similar situation in 2015, Ford noted, when the oil industry slumped and the number of unemployed residents soared. One thing the college did was grow its industrial trade scaffolding program by partnering with another college in the state.

The program now has more than 300 graduates and a high placement rate and gone into supervisory roles, he said.

“Some of the students that graduated from that program have actually come back to talk to current students,” he said. “There’s no more gratification than to see men and women who have gotten their dignity back. That’s the most important thing.”

Recent high school graduates, meanwhile, should consider enrolling in higher education this fall and not take a gap year, Sorenson and Ford noted. According to SimpsonScarborough, a higher ed research firm, enrollment at colleges and universities this fall could drop 20% and a 10% drop in recent high school graduates.

Many in higher ed officials are worried enrollment will be down and students will take a year off. Data on students taking a gap year are hard to track, the survey indicated, but a high number of students taking a gap year could significantly affect institutions financially, the survey indicated.

But they should not consider a gap year, Sorenson said.

“We know from the research and the data that students are anxious and their families are anxious,” she said. “I understand the concern. They’re trying to wonder, ‘What will there be for me?’ There are going to be jobs. We are going to get through this. We are going to be stronger than ever. The longer one waits, it puts you that much longer out of the job market when those jobs become available.”


Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.