"What if we train them and they leave? What if we don't and they stay?"
Missy Rogers, president of Noble Plastics, recited the adage about a fear many business owners experience when the conversation turns to growing training opportunities.
Employers might fear that a more trained and highly skilled workforce will want higher pay or will leave for other jobs, increasing employers' costs. But maintaining a limited workforce, doesn't pay off either, as the proverb says.
And if more people across Acadiana are educated and skilled, Rogers pointed out, business owners would have a pool of qualified, local talent to pull from to fill those vacancies.
"We must move past fear and embolden and equip our staff to improve the capability of our companies," Rogers said.
Troy Wayman, president and CEO of One Acadiana, is on the same page.
"One Acadiana's Target Industry Strategy, which guides our work to attract new business to the region, suggests that increasing our educational attainment rate is one of the most important things we can do to improve our economic competitiveness as a region," Wayman said.
"Not only will increasing educational attainment improve our business environment, it will also improve the earnings potential and quality of life of individuals throughout the Acadiana region."
Both were among more than 100 people at One Acadiana's 55 by 25 Summit Friday. The audience included stakeholders in business, economic development and education, from the early years to K-12 to college.
They gathered to discuss increasing the percentage of working age adults in the region with a degree, certificate or credential to 55 percent by 2025.
The nine-parish region currently has 24.2 percent of working age adults with an associate's degree or higher, according to recent Census data. An additional 15 percent have a "high-value" credential, such as an industry-based certification, according to data from the Lumina Foundation.
Together that's 39.2 percent, up from 2015's 38.5 percent. Following this trend line, the percentage could hit 43.3 percent by 2025, still far from One Acadiana's goal of more than half.
That's why the organization is launching the 55 by 25 initiative and calling on stakeholders to commit to it as well, beginning with meetings like Friday's.
"There's power in the gathering," said Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana's commissioner of higher education. "It can be the catalyst to the work that has to happen."
A "deep dive" into the community will be necessary in determining next steps, Hunter Reed said. It's work that will take all partners, from the economic development sector to educators to faith-based communities.
"The hard work is next," said Natalie Harder, chancellor of South Louisiana Community College and co-chair of One Acadiana's Workforce and Education Committee.
The committee will start by gathering and sifting through more information collected through suggestion cards and more meetings to be held throughout the region.
"Our teams will dig into strategies," from expanding or copying existing programs that are working to implementing new ones, Harder said.
Initial implementation of the 55 by 25 initiative will promote new and existing programs aligned with four focus areas:
- kindergarten readiness
- third-grade reading
- high school to college transition
- credential completion
These initiatives are part of a national effort, spearheaded by Lumina Foundation, to increase the national rate of adults with college degrees or other high-value credentials to 60 percent by 2025.
The Louisiana Board of Regents also recently set a goal to increase state educational attainment to 60 percent by 2030.
More information is available at the One Acadiana education dashboard at oneacadiana.org/education. The online dashboard provides interactive visualizations of key data indicators related to the 55 by 25 goal.
The dashboard aims to help provide a better understanding of the data and track progress over time, according to a release.