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Recruiters at Schumacher Group, one of the fastest-growing companies in Acadiana, meet with potential applicants at the 2011 LEDA Job Fair.

Get your résumé ready for Acadiana’s largest and most successful job fair.

By Gregg Gothreaux
July 26, 2012

With the high national jobless claims numbers reported so far this year, many people feel that the national economy is still visibly struggling. As I indicated at the State of the Economy luncheon in May, Lafayette has remained ahead of the curve in unemployment claims, the unemployment rate and overall job growth. The unemployment rate in Lafayette Parish has remained well below state and national numbers over the past two years. Even during the recession when the U.S. unemployment rate was in double digits, Lafayette’s unemployment rate never got above 6.6 percent. In May, Lafayette Parish had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 4.9 percent and the unemployment rate has held below 5 percent for six of the last seven months.

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 workforce development efforts also include assisting the local workforce in acquiring the needed education and skills to find employment.

LEDA’s most prominent event is the annual LEDA Job Fair. Now in its 17th year, the LEDA Job Fair is the largest recruitment event in Acadiana, attracting approximately 100 employers and 2,000 job seekers each year. Our staff works diligently to secure a good cross-section of employers, reflective of the region’s business base, who are offering jobs ranging from entry-level to executive, from those needing little training to those requiring advanced degrees. This year’s event will be held on Aug.15 at the Cajundome Convention Center. 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. Likewise, businesses have the opportunity to meet with hundreds of qualified applicants in a short amount of time, helping to reduce hiring expenses. We are still accepting applications for companies to participate and new employers are signing up daily. Information about the job fair and participating companies is updated daily at www.lafayette.org/jobfair.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, LEDA launched the LEDA Virtual Job Fair 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. Our director of workforce development posts job vacancies from LEDA’s clients, which may be employers who are new to the area, companies in the process of expanding their local operations 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 and South Louisiana Community College’s Career Services websites; the University of Phoenix Lafayette campus; as well as other local, private colleges and training academies. This distribution casts a wide net to inform local job seekers of a company’s employment opportunities. So far this year, we’ve posted 262 jobs on the Virtual Job Fair, at no charge to businesses.

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The annual LEDA Job Fair is Aug. 15 at the Cajundome Convention Center.

LEDA also assists the business community with developing its 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 (IWTP), the Small Business Employee Training Program, the Louisiana Fast Start 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 2011-12 fiscal year, companies in Acadiana received 42 IWTP awards totaling more than $5 million. Additionally, local businesses were awarded $939,696 in SBET awards, more than 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 executive 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.

For example, the land surveying industry locally employs hundreds of technical, skilled occupations such as surveyors and survey technicians. As the workforce ages and retires, industry insiders see their hiring needs growing even more. In 2009, LEDA brought together a group of surveying companies to discuss the need to have a technical training program in Lafayette — where the majority of the companies who hire these employees are located. Acadiana Technical College, now merged with the South Louisiana Community College, was quick to respond by bringing a civil surveying and mapping associate degree program to its Lafayette campus, adapting the curriculum to better meet the needs of area companies, and pursuing a state grant to purchase state-of-the-art equipment used in the industry. Additional efforts are still under way with UL Lafayette and Nicholls State University to begin accepting articulated credits from SLCC to their respective four-year degree programs, which will allow students to continue to work at surveying companies while furthering their education.

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 have the opportunity to receive sufficient training in order to acquire better jobs and careers, in turn allowing employers to run efficiently and profitably.

We’ve weathered the national recession well and our steady and relatively low unemployment rate (and resulting high employment rate) reflects a successful economy. As Lafayette’s business base evolves, new employment opportunities will present themselves to the local workforce while at the same time attracting a new, skilled workforce to the area. This benefits everyone as a quality workforce influences economic development by growing our existing businesses as well as attracting new businesses and industries to the state.

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

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