When the Louisiana Legislature convenes next month it will consider whether to fund a $40 million plan to create a pot of money that the state’s colleges and universities can compete over. Penned by higher education system leaders, the so-called WISE (Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy) plan is meant to help remedy niche labor shortages in the state.
University of Louisiana System president Sandra Woodley said this plan – backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal -- is part of a collaboration with the Department of Economic Development and the Louisiana Workforce Commission. It aims to respond to challenges employers face in their staffing.
“It is important that we continue to produce these high-quality liberal arts graduates, for example. They’re very important to our economy. But, it’s also true that we have known shortages rolling in that we have to find a way to ramp up,” Woodley said, in an interview with Red River Radio.
Case in point, according to Woodley, is a lack of computer science majors. Thus, between now and the session, higher education leaders aim to step up their meetings with business and industry executives who grapple with labor shortages in the hopes of establishing new academic partnerships.
They’re looking for firms that would partially pay for specialized training or a degree that will fill these pockets of hard-to-fill positions. Woodley said she wants to see the WISE plan set into motion immeduately.
“We can, between now and the session, connect with as many of our industry partners as possible to get them on board -- to get their checkbooks out -- and ready to begin to work with us on proposals,” Woodley said.
In all, 45 higher education leaders signed on to the WISE plan that was outlined in a letter sent to Gov. Jindal last month. Schools that produce graduates in fields that are expected to grow the state’s economy would get a larger chunk of the money. It would reward colleges for the research they do, and require them to first raise private capital before receiving a portion of these earmarked public dollars.
Woodley said she’s beating the bushes now looking for those potential corporate partners who may want to draw up a proposal with one of the nine schools in her system.