Louisiana’s FastStart Workforce Development Program Sets Standard for Innovation, Effectiveness

September 01, 2014

Workforce development is rapidly coming to the fore in the nation, and the summer of 2014 has seen a flourish of meetings and summits devoted to workforce development reform in the Delta. Luckily for the region, there is a program that could easily be considered the benchmark of excellence for employment training, and Susana Schowen is playing lead in ensuring its success.

Founded in 2008 under the leadership of Executive Director Jeff Lynn, Louisiana Department of Economic Development’s FastStart job training program has been called “the most notable workforce-development initiative” by The Economist, and it has been recognized for “its innovation, effectiveness, flexibility and efficiency” by Business Facilities magazine.  In fact, Business Facilities recently named FastStart the nation’s leading state workforce program for the fifth year in a row. FastStart provides customized employee recruitment, screening, training development and training delivery for eligible, new or expanding companies — all at no cost. Based on a company's immediate and long-term workforce needs, the FastStart team crafts unique programs that ensure high-quality, flexible workers are prepared on day one and beyond.

Susana Schowen joined LED FastStart in June of 2011 as its Workforce Initiatives Manager, tasked with implementing high-level strategies focused on systemic workforce reform. Schowen brought with her an impressive skillset refined by her experience with ITT Technical Institute and Kaplan Educational Services, and as Director of Training and Academic Programs at Thomson Peterson’s. Schowen has smoothly integrated her extensive experience in the private sector and academic arena into Louisiana’s workforce development model.

In crafting the ongoing strategy for LED FastStart, Schowen analyzed Louisiana’s workforce supply and demand, collaborating with educational stakeholders to align offerings to the needs of Louisiana employers. Schowen also enlisted the support of other professionals from the private sector to ensure that the program’s graduates receive relevant, real-world experience that encompasses the technical knowledge and the soft skills needed for success. 

Schowen’s team recently completed a new stackable certification program called C4M (Certification for Manufacturing), offered at high schools and Louisiana Community and Technical College System campuses throughout the state. This certification program provides high school students with the opportunity to complete a high school degree while simultaneously acquiring skills relevant to the manufacturing industry. This certification is stackable with other certifications, articulating to community and technical colleges across the state the skillset that certified workers have. The program also makes available a higher-level C4 Machining credential. LED FastStart is currently developing a new set of stackable credentials focused on Industrial Maintenance, which will be available to college and high school students later this year.

In addition to program development, Schowen’s team focuses on integrating workforce development efforts across the state behind a common economic growth strategy. “Commitment to workforce development must be demonstrated at the state level, integrated across educational systems, stakeholder agencies, and business and industry,” Schowen explains. “Efforts must be carefully targeted to focus resources on workforce development solutions that maximize opportunities for economic growth.”

To improve cross-sector coordination with economic developers and industry statewide, LED FastStart participates in the Occupational Forecasting Conference of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council. Schowen and staff are working with the Louisiana Department of Education’s Jump Start initiative to identify Industry Based Credentials (IBCs) in connection in support of career and technical education at the high school level and provide data analysis to assist in the implementation of the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund, a $40 million investment in Louisiana’s higher education systems targeted to economic development priorities.

“Louisiana is demonstrating its commitment to adopting a leadership position in meeting the needs of individual companies through LED FastStart as well as the broader system demand for technical sophisticated workers at all levels of education and experience.” That commitment has set Louisiana as a model for reimagining state workforce development.