Study on the River

A Southern University student does class work on a laptap computer beneath a Pergola located on the University Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river on Wednesday afternoon. Students often sit to school work or relax while enjoying the scenic view.

It's been about two years since LSU and Southern University in Baton Rouge adopted the same technology tool known as Handshake for their students to connect with employers for jobs. Now the Baton Rouge Area Chamber is pushing local businesses to join the online network.

Fewer than 3% of employers, or roughly 500 companies, in the Baton Rouge metro area have created profiles on Handshake, a Silicon Valley technology company founded in 2014 that seeks to connect graduates with their first job, according to a BRAC analysis. 

Handshake is paid for by the universities in a licensing deal. That means even small and middle market businesses, which account for 88% of the labor market employers, can afford to create accounts on the website and post open jobs. There are more than 900 universities already on the website, so employers potentially could recruit from other markets across the country, though the intention is keep graduates in Baton Rouge.

Any employer on the network can post jobs, filter potential employees, schedule interviews and register for virtual recruiting sessions through the single portal. 

There are plans to include Baton Rouge Community College, River Parishes Community College and FranU, a private college in Baton Rouge, in the network through a new agreement. 

BRAC expects to measure the progress and success rate of the initiative to determine whether there is still a "brain drain" of new grads leaving the market for their first jobs. 

"A large part of this is that the business community learns about this transformative thing that LSU and Southern have created to simply access to university talent," said Adam Knapp, BRAC's CEO. 

Last fall, there were more than 50,000 college students in the Baton Rouge metro alone. This year, LSU enrolled its largest freshman class in its history. It was also its most diverse student body. There are more than 34,200 students at LSU this fall. 

About half of the students at both Southern University and LSU have active profiles on Handshake.

"The higher education system in Louisiana has to increase degree attainment by 30,000 degrees by the year 2030. If we fail to do that, in effect what we are saying is that we will not have the talent to support business and industry in this state," said Ray Belton, Southern University's president-chancellor about the direction from the Board of Regents. "The opportunity that this initiative brings is to establish stronger relationships with the business community, such that we have a greater appreciation what those workforce needs are."

BRAC expects to host workshops for employers to learn how to use the Handshake system, the first on Oct. 14. The goal is for employers to offer paid internship opportunities to connect with students.

Beyond that, being mindful of a welcoming company culture is important, especially for new graduates who are having their first experiences in the professional workplace. 

"What we see more and more, especially in 2020, companies want to know how they can change the recognition and importance of diverse staff but also their internal awareness and importance of diversity," Knapp said. 

At LSU, the university is listening to its student body about diversity and implementing suggestions that could improve the work culture and college experience, said Stacia Haynie, provost and executive vice president at LSU. 

"Bringing in interns is a fabulous way for employers to bring in our students. This initiative is a great tool for those companies to bring in diverse talented students."

Employers looking to hire more diverse employees should consider extending the length of time a job application is open, suggested Christine Cruzvergara, vice president of higher education and student success for Handshake. Beyond that, paid internships with clearly defined compensation is key to attracting more diverse students, she said.


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.