Workforce Focus: From Campus To Careers

Effective pathways for higher education to meet workforce needs are forged through renewed collaboration and action.

By Anne Cosgrove
From the March/April 2024 Issue


As companies across all sectors face a skilled labor shortage, there is a focus on the role of universities, colleges, and training centers. It’s not news that pathway partnerships between higher education and the private sector are a critical piece of workforce development, but significant changes in the landscape are shifting the path. Evolving skillsets required by employers as well as the changing outlook of the workforce at large has called for those in higher education to assess both the content and the structure of curriculum and collaboration with employers.

A survey released in November 2023 by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) found that eight in 10 of the 1000+ employers surveyed “strongly agreed” or “agreed somewhat” that recent graduates “are well prepared overall to succeed in entry-level positions and to advance beyond them.” Still, when it comes to specific skill areas, employers see room for improvement, noted the survey.

higher education
Established approaches to building a talent pipeline endure in higher education, while many schools are embracing new strategies to build student skills. (Photo: Adobe Stock / thejokercze)


Alternative credentials are an emerging offering, focused on specific skills; in 2022, nonprofit Credential Engine counted 1.07 million across the U.S from both traditional and non-traditional education institutions. These credentials can include non-credit certificates, professional certificates, badges, bootcamps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs).

The AAC&U survey found support among employers for microcredentials. When hiring for an entry-level position, more than half (68%) would prefer to hire a college graduate with a microcredential. Employers were evenly divided between preferring to hire a high school graduate with a microcredential (14%) and hiring a college graduate without one (13%).

The landscape of higher education partnerships between employer, economic developer, and the workforce is being reshaped. The opportunities abound.

Here is one location connecting resources to bridge the pathway from campus to career.

Connecting In Southwest Louisiana

Southwest Louisiana is home to phenomenal business development, and a trained workforce is the driving force for this growth. The five-parish region (Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jeff Davis parishes) is home to McNeese State University and SOWELA Technical Community College, which has campuses in Jennings (Morgan Smith) and Oakdale.

The workforce in Southwest Louisiana totals 102,214. Recent studies show that 89% have a high school diploma and additional training, and 26% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, due to the educational institutions that call the area home.

higher education, Southwest Louisiana
McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA offers 34 undergraduate programs and 18 graduate programs. The College of Nursing and Health Professions prepares students to meet the needs of the healthcare industry. (Photo: Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance)


A lot of work takes place between regional partners to spread the word about employment opportunities for current companies and those actively recruited to the area by the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. The Alliance is currently leading the Ready, Set, Work Initiative utilizing its Workforce Development Committee, Phillips 66 Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex, and Louisiana Economic Development.

“This initiative’s purpose is to let people know that jobs are available. We are expanding to feature aviation, health care, and other industries alongside the petrochemical and manufacturing companies, so that we can build awareness,” says George Swift, President and CEO of the Alliance.

Swift explained that the effort highlights the skills needed for careers and points people toward McNeese State and SOWELA.

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Alliance Senior Vice President Michelle McInnis leads the agency’s workforce initiatives and said the region is ready to adapt and work for business leaders who want to invest here. “The SWLA Region has a very adaptable workforce base,” she says. “When recruiting new industries to our area, we can show the resiliency and adaptability of our workforce and our training partners to demonstrate the responsiveness of our area to the workforce needs of business and industry.”

McInnis continues, “The Alliance meets with our sector partners on an ongoing basis to keep in touch with the needs of our local partners. Our Education and Workforce committee is one example of the ways our organization keeps tabs on our region’s workforce pulse. Linking our training providers and our business community is the heart of the successful collaboration that makes our region work.”

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