Closing the Gap

An industry-driven workforce development event helps to build a stronger talent pipeline.

For six years, Greater New Orleans, Inc. has utilized its GNOu model to close the gap between industry needs and the skills and training of the local workforce. By fostering a mutually supportive ecosystem that links business and industry leaders with higher education institutions, non-profit training providers and K-12 educators, GNOu has ensured local talent has a direct pipeline to successful careers.

“GNO, Inc., provides services to help facilitate these conversations and acts as an intermediary to ensure the workforce ecosystem is developing an industry-driven supply of workforce to meet the demand,” says Josh Tatum, Director of Strategic Initiatives at GNO, Inc. “This model is a triple win: companies get the workers they need; schools and training providers get a market-relevant curricula; and students are better trained for high-demand careers.”

To date, GNOu has helped to create 23 new industry-driven programs in the region. These include a Bachelor of Science in urban construction management at the University of New Orleans, an applied chemistry degree at Xavier University and a certificate in urban water management at Dillard University.

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But this year, GNOu took their mission a step further with the development of the GNOu Summit, an in-person conference that further stimulated collaboration and networking between business and education. The inaugural summit, which took place in September, addressed the number one problem that businesses and industries face when seeking to expand or relocate: tapping into a qualified and talented workforce.

The Summit addressed this issue by showcasing leaders from industries such as advanced manufacturing, logistics, wind
energy, technology and maritime. Attendees had the opportunity to learn industry trends and workforce needs, as well as to network with industry and education leaders from the state’s most valuable sectors.

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“The main goal of the Summit was to strengthen our training-to-career pipelines,” Tatum says. “Students are seeing the need to enter into colleges, training programs and education opportunities that have a direct pipeline to employment. There are thousands of career opportunities in the GNO region, but they cannot be filled unless we are developing the training that leads folks to these careers.”

Prior to the GNOu Summit, there was no singular event that brought together these leaders to have real conversations about workforce development systems.

“GNO, Inc., feels that we have all the pieces to the puzzle when it comes to training programs, and investments into training and higher education,” Tatum says. “What was lacking was the glue that brings it all together to ensure the industry knows about the programs; training leaders have the partnership with industry to make adjustments as needed for their programs; and, ultimately, students are landing the career upon graduation and programs are reaping investments for their growth due to their ability to meet industry demand.”

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During the inaugural summit, 38 industry partners served on panels to share insights on topics such as advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, maritime/logistics and food manufacturing. Programming included two distinct tracks: the workforce development track featured industry partners on 14 panels (such as energy evolution; healthcare; and digital media, video games and virtual reality) that discussed workforce needs, trends, and skillsets required for today’s industries. Meanwhile, the talent track featured members of talent development organizations on 14 panels (such as innovative youth programs; apprenticeships; up-skilling, retooling and adult literacy) that shared best practices to develop industry-driven programs that meet industry demand.

Two keynote speaker sessions also comprised the GNOu Summit, including a keynote speech by Jon Schnur, CEO of America Achieves and a keynote panel discussion entitled “One Louisiana, Creating a Bright Future for All” by Dr. Cade Brumley from the Louisiana Department of Education, Dr. Lisa Vosper from the Louisiana Board of Regents, Susie Schowen from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and Dr. Mario Vaccari from Louisiana Economic Development, FastStart™.

“[Schnur] started the day off by providing the national and international context to the importance of developing a strong workforce development ecosystem,” Tatum says. “He also set the tone for the day by sharing the continued demand to bring jobs back to the U.S., and, without strong workforce ecosystems, the U.S. will not be able to be competitive in an ever- growing global market.”

The keynote panel discussion, meanwhile, included state workforce partners who talked about their state organization priorities when it comes to workforce challenges and solutions.

“Louisiana has a very low labor participation rate,” Tatum says. “We also have a very low education attainment rate. With both of these at unprecedented low rates, it is imperative that regions have a coherent system in place that is producing equitable and accessible education pipelines that are meeting industry demand.”

Schnur, who founded America Achieves in 2011 as a way to build economic and educational bridges to the middle class by re-establishing the link between work and opportunity, also shared his admiration for Louisiana, New Orleans and GNO, Inc.’s, efforts to transition the regional energy sector toward green hydrogen. He also emphasized the critical importance of equity and provided concrete ways that participants at the Summit, working together in partnership, could seize those opportunities.

“The GNOu Summit is a wonderful example of coalitions coming together to discuss shared challenges and achieve shared goals,” Schnur says. “Louisiana’s and New Orleans’ evolution to green hydrogen will be a team sport, and we were excited to see regional and local organizations working together at the GNOu Summit.”

In fact, America Achieves supported the design and launch of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge and Good Jobs Challenge, which resulted in 50 communities across the nation receiving more than $1.5 billion to advance innovation and equity. One of the winners was GNO, Inc., which will receive $50 million to transition the region’s energy sources to green hydrogen. “We believe this will make Louisiana and New Orleans a model [for successful regional partnerships] for the entire United States,” Schnur says.

Melissa Ehlinger, chief of external affairs at YouthForce NOLA, also attended this year’s Summit to spotlight her organization’s mission to provide equitable opportunities to the region’s youth. “At YouthForce NOLA, we believe in evolving our education system so that students are prepared to have high-paying careers,” she says. “When we equip New Orleans students with the skills they need, we can open doors to economic opportunities and erase the historic economic inequities that exist in our city.”

During the Summit, staff from YouthForce NOLA presented on a panel about youth internships and the organization sponsored attendance for approximately 30 public school educators. “Having high school educators attend this event helped them hear directly from industry about workforce needs, in-demand skills and overall labor market trends,” Ehlinger says. “Similarly, having teachers’ voices in the breakout sessions helped facilitate conversations with business leaders to make connections between the classroom and the world of work.”

Ehlinger emphasizes that the GNOu Summit is important for organizations like YouthForce NOLA because it not only addresses industry trends and workforce needs, but provides a forum to network with industry and education leaders from the state’s most opportunity-rich sectors.

“Our collaborative cannot provide high-quality training and meaningful work experiences for our young people if we are not aligned with higher education leaders, training providers, K-12 leaders, economic and workforce developers, and business and industry partners,” Ehlinger says. “The GNOu Summit created the environment for these connections, which are imperative as we work to ensure that every New Orleans high school graduate is skilled, connected, confident and on the path to succeed in the 21st-Century economy.”

While GNO, Inc., does not yet have dates for 2023, the organization is planning to host the GNOu Summit in October. For more information, and to stay connected, visit


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