The Next Economy

Mar 30, 2012

Commentator Andre Perry talks about how to make an inclusive workforce.

The Greater New Orleans Community Data Center just released the report, Building an Inclusive High-Skilled Workforce for New Orleans’ Next Economy. Its findings reflect national trends that the New Orleans metro workforce is shifting towards jobs that require postsecondary training in order to be competitive in a global economy.  Concomitantly, the entire metro area is quickly becoming majority-minority. However, minority groups are among the least likely to attain the types of skills and postsecondary training that predict for a high quality of life.

In particular, poor people of color must improve their educational outcomes in order to reap the benefits of the Next Economy. But, our collective destinies are interconnected. Citywide growth will be a function of how inclusive New Orleans’ economy is. Therefore, we must all find ways to help educationally under-equipped residents gain the requisite skills of the Next Economy.

New Orleans is attracting the types of businesses that will sustain the city during the Next Economy, but according to a Brookings Institution report, the New Orleans metro scored in the lowest quartile among the largest 100 metros for its gap in 2009 in the supply of educated workers relative to demand. This is easy to understand given that the share of African Americans in the New Orleans metro with postsecondary degrees continues to be lower than the U.S. average. Consequently, African American and Hispanic Households earn 48 percent and 24 percent less income, respectively, than white households in the area.

Still, New Orleans is improving since the storms, but we will soon realize the limits of our growth. The GNOCDC Report states, “If we are to continue our recent economic successes, coordinated action across a range of corporate, political, civic, and community leaders is needed to improve existing workforce, education, and training systems so they work for all races and ethnicities.” The City should not be so naïve to think we have the experts to coordinate these necessary actions between the various sectors.

Nor should schools be solely responsible for building a highly skilled workforce. Skill and degree attainment are basic.  The City still needs people who understand how to create and sustain multicultural spaces where they did not exist previously. Our past lack of inclusivity helped create social, political and economic settings that produced 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in the New Orleans metro who were neither enrolled in school nor employed in 2010.

Mainstream institutions will have to engage with “disconnected youth” in creative ways that simultaneously provides job training, degree attainment, professional development and employment. Small and large businesses must truly see professional development for youth as an investment for the community.

Postsecondary institutions will play a different roll than serving as merely a training ground for industry. We should never forget that higher education is industry. Therefore colleges and universities must become more inclusive as well as create leaders of industry who will reshape economies and our collective futures. We need leaders who will demonstrate inclusion in practice.

The Next Economy will need transformational leaders who will help move the formerly incarcerated into jobs that will sustain a family. We need transformational leaders who will create programs like those in Chicago that encourage English language learners to gain Licensed Practical Nursing positions. We need community college leaders to create more agreements that pair industry with G.E.D. graduates. New Orleans needs graduate programs to train people who understand the connections between socioeconomic status, human development and education.

Most importantly, no one should feel comfortable living out the Dickens quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” In deference to the poor, the doors of opportunity must open. However, disconnected youth have little choice but to find their way and walk through. If individuals and institutions don’t accept our responsibilities for change, the New Orleans metro will continue to underperform.