Why layoff when you can ‘upskill’ existing workforce?

    Wanting to meet fast-changing business needs without wasting money and time recruiting new employees, Turner Industries is among many Baton Rouge companies focusing its training efforts on a ready pool of talent: Its own workers.

    Ray Neck, Turner’s workforce development director, has become something of an expert securing the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s Incumbent Worker Training Program grant money—which, this year, totals $850,000—having done so eight times. By applying this year, Turner promised two outcomes: Increased wages for some 700 existing employees who gain new skills and knowledge from a number of training programs conducted by Associated Builders and Contractors, LSU Continuing Education and Turner itself; and the creation of 70 jobs for new employees as retrained workers shift roles.

    Each time it receives the IWTP grant, the company forks over an estimated $100,000 to cover all the classes it wants to offer. It’s a small sacrifice, says Neck, considering the payoff that comes after retaining skilled labor and making them more valuable.

    “If they do this for us, we want to stick with them,” Neck says.

    The situation happens across Baton Rouge. A ballooning demand for skills—ranging from cloud computing and cybersecurity to pipefitting and welding—outpaces the existing supply, pushing employers to invest in their current workforce … and quickly.

    At the same time, automation infiltrates different industries, ushering in new eras like “Manufacturing 4.0” and others. The ubiquitous threat of competition also looms: Could Company X’s employee pick up and move across the street to Company Y?

    All of which makes “upskilling” an increasingly attractive practice for Baton Rouge companies. Employers want to cultivate and retain a steady base of adaptable workers who are well-equipped to fill new roles as they emerge across multiple sectors.

    To some, habitually teaching new skills to current employees might seem an obvious move. But it can be more complicated than that, and many executives—viewing the retraining process as slow, costly and limiting—tend to favor the more disruptive alternatives of layoffs and buyouts, or simply neglect to implement the new skill or technology altogether. 

    Read the full story from the latest edition of Business Report. Send comments editor@businessreport.com.

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