NEWS

Study Finds Barriers for 'Disconnected' Workers Hamper Economic Growth

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

BATON ROUGE – Without access to adequate transportation, adult basic education, professional mentors, life-skills training and other key support, nearly 168,000 people in the Capital Region are missing out on opportunities for quality, long-term employment, according to a new study.

     Produced by the Center for Planning Excellence, the report, titled “Entering the Pipeline: Engaging Disconnected Workers in Our Regional Economy,” finds that even though services to help these workers have a positive return on investment when compared to the costs of allowing them to slip through the cracks, organizations providing those services have a troublesome lack of resources.

     “This is a major issue statewide because nearly half of working-age adults are not working,” says Jessica Kemp, CPEX vice president of policy and advocacy, and the study’s author. “Louisiana, and specifically the Capital Region, are poised for major economic growth. But we can’t sustain that growth unless we do a better job of connecting people to job opportunities.”

     The study acknowledges several local service providers that have developed effective case-management models that address barriers to employment such as legal issues, literacy issues, soft-skills deficiencies, homelessness, family and financial instability, and health care and childcare needs. But these providers often lack the resources to offer services on the scale needed.

     The report profiles several groups and initiatives working to increase disconnected workers’ access to sustainable employment – Up Alliance, the North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, HOPE Ministries and WorkReady U, a division of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. Kemp says that without adequate funding, however, these programs reach a fraction of those who need and want help.

     Researchers are calling on the region’s public- and private-sector employers to increase their engagement and support of organizations that help disconnected workers. The recommendations include an accelerated expansion of the area’s transit network, along with taking advantage of federal funding available through the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, and the Job Access Reverse Commute program. CPEX cites research showing that in 2013, Louisiana left $20 million in Workforce Investment Act funding unspent.

     In addition, researchers suggest more strategic investment in public transportation for low-income communities and vouchers to help students cover transportation costs. They also recommend expanding services that help disconnected workers overcome challenges like substance abuse, financial instability, soft-skills deficiencies and basic literacy skills.

     The study complements a recent report from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber that identifies the specific industries with high workforce demands and gaps in providing training for skilled work as the region experiences a period of rapid economic growth.

     The nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence coordinates urban, rural and regional planning efforts in Louisiana. We provide best-practice planning models, innovative policy ideas and technical assistance to individual communities that wish to create and enact master plans with transportation and infrastructure needs, environmental issues and quality design for the built environment. More information is available at cpex.org.