Job forecast looking up for La.

11 05, 2012 by The Advocate

Petrochemical, health care industries lead growth

The future employment outlook for Louisiana has changed, thanks to a booming petrochemical industry and continued growth in the healthcare sector.

From 2010 to 2020, the number of jobs in the state is projected to increase by 13.6 percent, growing from just under 2 million jobs to 2.25 million jobs, according to Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. That compares with the 8.1 percent growth projection the state had forecast through 2018 just last year.

“This is very positive,” Eysink said. “The Louisiana economy underperformed the region and the nation for a long time.”

Eysink said Louisiana is adding jobs at a faster clip than the South and the U.S. as a whole. The number of jobs in Louisiana went up by 40,000 in 2011. Louisiana and Texas are the only states to regain the jobs they lost during the most recent recession, Eysink said.

Several sectors are driving the increase. Professional, scientific and technical services is projected to see a 23.7 percent increase, finishing the decade with just under 100,000 jobs. Health care and social assistance will see a 20.9 percent increase to just over 330,000 jobs. Transportation and warehousing is slated to see a 19.6 percent increase to just under 92,000 jobs.

The forecast is based on regular interviews with major employers and industry groups, conducted by LSU economist Dek Terrell.

Eysink gives a lot of the credit to the state’s efforts to diversify its economy, including Louisiana Economic Development’s “blue ocean” strategy, which calls for establishing footholds in industries that other states haven’t cornered, such as digital media.

At the same time, Louisiana has been helped by an ample supply of natural gas, which has boosted the petrochemical industry.

“The quote I use is that chemical plants use natural gas like a bakery uses flour,” said Dan Borné, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association.

Along with the well-documented demand for industrial construction workers to build the multi-billion dollar plants that are planned for South Louisiana, there will be a need for machinists to service and maintain the equipment at the plants.

Stephanie Cargile, spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, said the chemical giant and some of its contractors have partnered with Baton Rouge Community College, the Capital Area Technical College and Hope Ministries to launch the North Baton Rouge Industrial Training Initiative. This prepares young men and women for jobs the openings created when existing plant workers retire. The first class of more than 45 participants started October 1 and the students will be ready to enter the workforce in early 2013.

“These are our core mechanical jobs,” Cargile said. “We need highly skilled workers to fill these industrial technology and technical process jobs.”

Health care is another major driver for future jobs. Statewide, the highest demand will be for home health aides, with a 4.4 percent growth in the number of workers forecast through 2020.

That’s not surprising, says LSU’s Terrell, since entry-level type jobs like health aides are usually in the highest demand. An aging population and a shift toward taking care of patients at in their homes instead of in a hospital or nursing home is helping to boost demand for aides.

Marcus Macip, chief administrative officer for LHC Group, a Lafayette-based home health agency, said his company is forecasting 6 percent revenue growth, so it will need more home health aides. While Macip said it is always difficult to recruit the right personnel, LHC is “a little bit lucky” when it comes to hiring more workers. “We’re a healthy company with a good culture and reputation. That goes a long way toward recruiting and sourcing qualified candidates.”

To help make the hiring process easier for employers and employees, the Workforce Commission introduced a new program last week that assigns a star rating for jobs. More stars indicate higher demand and better pay.

Terrell said this ratings system is fairly rare for state labor departments, only New Jersey and Utah have similar programs.

Next year, the state will update its job forecast for 2020. Eysink said he expects the trend of job growth to continue to accelerate because of several potential massive petrochemical projects that could be built in Louisiana. “This is not a state that is in overall decline,” he said.