LEDA meets with hundreds of businesses throughout the year, and one of the top concerns we hear from them repeatedly is workforce — whether it’s finding the number of workers needed, identifying workers with the necessary skill sets, or keeping positions filled once someone is hired. As such, workforce development is an essential component of LEDA’s economic development efforts, and part of this strategy is connecting the workforce demand (employers’ need for workers) and the workforce supply (individuals seeking employment). Our most prominent event, the LEDA Job Fair, is essential in carrying out this objective.

Job-FairNow in its 19th year, the LEDA Job Fair is the largest recruitment event in Acadiana, attracting approximately 100 employers and 2,000 job seekers each year. This year’s event will be held on May 21 at the Cajundome Convention Center. In 2013, the LEDA Job Fair was moved from August to May, and the date change proved to be beneficial to both job seekers and recruiting businesses. Last year’s data revealed more job seekers with college-level degrees attended than ever before. Due to its close proximity to UL graduation, the job fair conveniently provides graduates with an opportunity to showcase their skills and smoothly transition into the workforce.

Our staff works diligently to secure a cross-section of employers that is reflective of the region’s business base — employers who are offering jobs ranging from entry-level to executive, from those needing little training to those requiring advanced degrees. The job fair is a great venue for job seekers — whether looking for a first job or a new job— to meet with hiring managers from multiple employers all in one location. In the past 18 years, thousands of Acadiana job seekers have connected directly with Acadiana’s top employers. We are certain this year’s event will be one of our best with more recruiters and hiring managers on hand to help job seekers find the career they are searching for.

Likewise, the event is a cost-effective solution to help companies meet their recruitment goals. Companies have the opportunity to meet with hundreds of qualified applicants in a short amount of time, which helps reduce hiring expenses. The job seekers at the LEDA Job Fair are diverse, with varying employment and educational backgrounds.

Each year the LEDA Job Fair has a tremendous impact on the community, assisting both job seekers and businesses. With the event right around the corner, businesses are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to optimize their workforce. We are still accepting applications for companies to participate. For more information about the job fair, visit www.lafayette.org/jobfair. Participating companies and job openings are updated daily.

LEDA’s workforce development efforts also include the LEDA Virtual Job Fair. It was created following Hurricane Katrina to connect evacuees with local companies in need of temporary or permanent employees. Since then, the Virtual Job Fair, www.lafayette.org/jobs, has become the most popular page on LEDA’s website, and new jobs are posted almost daily. Workforce Development staff posts job vacancies for LEDA’s clients which may be new to the area, companies in the process of expanding, or other local businesses seeking qualified employees. We distribute the job postings to a network of workforce centers in addition to sharing the information with the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s job matching website, laworks.net; UL Lafayette’s and South Louisiana Community College’s Career Services websites; as well as other local, private colleges and training academies. This distribution casts a wide net to inform local job seekers of your company’s employment opportunities. Since its inception in 2005, there has been steady growth in the number of job posts. We posted more than 620 job openings on the Virtual Job Fair in 2013, and so far this year, we’ve posted close to 100 jobs at no charge to businesses.

LEDA also assists the business community with developing their workforce by providing advisory services regarding federal, state and local funding available to offset employee training expenses. We actively promote workforce training programs such as the Incumbent Worker Training Program, the Small Business Employee Training Program, the LED FastStart Program and the On-the-Job-Training Program. These programs can help businesses obtain the skilled workforce necessary for their operation and growth. For the 2012-13 fiscal year, companies in Acadiana received 20 IWTP awards totaling more than $3.5 million. Additionally, local businesses were awarded $885,174 in SBET awards, almost a quarter of the total SBET awards approved statewide.

There are times when traditional workforce training and education programs are not enough to meet industry needs or a common skills gap is identified in an industry. In these cases, LEDA may bring together company executives and hiring managers to pinpoint issues in finding skilled workers, and we’ll work with local universities and colleges to develop solutions to meet those needs.  How effectively employers, educators and the public workforce system address workforce issues in the community will ultimately determine how they may impact the region economically in the long run. As a community we also need to make sure individuals in the community have the opportunity to receive sufficient training to acquire better jobs and careers, in turn allowing employers to run efficiently and profitably.

For example, the health care industry is the largest employing industry in Lafayette Parish. In our meetings with several medical providers in the area, we heard repeatedly that the industry had a high demand for Registered Nurses and many were having trouble meeting those labor demands. LEDA facilitated meetings with representatives from area hospitals and educational instructions to discuss the workforce needs of the facilities. In 2013, LEDA joined the four major hospitals — Lafayette General Medical Center, Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, Regional Medical Center of Acadiana and Women’s and Children’s Hospital — in establishing a two-year RN program at South Louisiana Community College. The program should begin enrolling students in the fall semester. Once at full capacity, the program will graduate 60 RNs a year with an average annual salary of $65,000. The program, combined with UL Lafayette’s nursing program, will go far to alleviate workforce concerns for the parish’s health care providers.

As Lafayette’s business base evolves, new employment opportunities will present themselves to the local workforce while also attracting a new, skilled workforce to the area.

Our workforce development efforts benefit the entire community as a quality workforce influences economic development by growing our existing businesses as well as attracting new businesses and industries to the state.

If you would like to share your company’s workforce needs with us, contact Ryan LaGrange, LEDA’s Director of Workforce Development, at 593-1405. He’ll set aside some time to listen to what your business needs and discuss the programs from which your company may benefit.

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

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