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Forbes Examines New Orleans’ Work Force Job Skill Challenges

By LittleT889 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

(Cate Swinburn, Grads of Life, Forbes) Cate Swinburn, Co-Founder and President of YouthForce NOLA, speaks to the scale of the mismatch between the skills employers need and the training jobseekers, particularly young people, receive, and how it is being tackled in New Orleans.

Ask employers to list their top impediments to growth, and most will bemoan a lack of skilled, local talent. How can this be, when COVID-19 has flooded the labor market with available workers and yet another cohort of graduates left high school and college last Spring in search of meaningful work?

The answer is a massive skills and awareness mismatch. Employers unable to find the talent they need cite a lack of both hard, technical skills (e.g., software development, medical billing) and soft skills (e.g., communication, collaboration, time management), as well as candidates’ limited awareness or understanding of specific industries or roles. Further, 2020 laid bare substantial and deep-rooted racial inequities in our economy, despite mounting evidence for the value of a diverse workforce. This set of challenges is simply too great for any one person or organization to tackle alone.

Instead, this macro problem needs macro solutions, developed collaboratively by partners working across sectors to short-circuit past systemic failures and solve for talent shortages and equity gaps. And it will be a marathon, not a sprint.

New Orleans is at mile marker 8.
Surveying the city’s talent-starved employers, brutal racial inequality data, and talented young people with limited awareness of local career pathways and options, a group of local business, civic, and education leaders and I founded YouthForce NOLA in 2015 to strengthen and expand career and technical education in New Orleans. Our shared vision is simple, yet bold: that our public school graduates – the vast majority of whom are people of color from disadvantaged backgrounds – will thrive economically as a result of being the most sought-after talent for hiring and advancement in our region’s high-wage career pathways. We focus on four high-wage, high-demand skill clusters projected to yield the largest job and wage opportunities over the next decade and beyond: business services, digital media/IT/software development, health sciences, and skilled crafts.

Over the past five years, our partner network has grown to include more than 200 businesses, 27 high schools, 10 training organizations, 12 systems partners (including our city government), and thousands of families from communities across our city. Each partner plays an integral role in pursuit of our vision: employers inform offerings and open their doors for career experiences; schools redesign course progressions; training providers offer technical training; students and families embrace and demand strong career programs; community organizations guide young people and connect them with resources; and systems partners remove barriers and enact enabling policies.

Read the full story here.

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