An educated population has a positive ripple effect throughout every aspect of a community.

Organizations are coming together to make sure that the people of Vermilion have quality employment and other opportunities by influencing an increase in educational attainment and continuing education for workers.

Workforce partners gather to announce project launch. Pictured: Andre Breaux (One Acadiana), Anne Falgout (Vermilion Economic Development Alliance), Holly Franks Boffy (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education), Dr. Jamie Hebert (UL Lafayette), Lawana Stokes (South Louisiana Community College), Jerome Puyau and Paul Hebert (Vermilion Parish School System)

One Acadiana, the Vermilion Economic Development Alliance (VEDA), and the Vermilion Parish School System are among the partners in the 55 by 25 initiative. The goal is to increase the proportion of working-age adults in Acadiana with postsecondary degrees, certificates, or other high-value credentials to 55 percent by 2025. That will be accomplished by focusing on four areas of the initiative, kindergarten readiness, 3rd-grade reading, high school to college transition and credential completion.

The initiative officially launched during an event Wednesday morning at Abbeville High School. Representatives of the partners, as well as those from higher education, took part in the launch.

“A well-educated, prepared workforce injects money into communities, helps attract the companies we are best suited for,” VEDA Executive Director Anne Falgout said, “and helps us become competitive with those communities were compared to. This initiative puts our priorities in order to ensure we’re making positive improvements where the workforce is concerned.”

Dr. Jaimie Hebert, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and an Abbeville High School graduate, spoke during Wednesday’s launch. He said he is pleased for UL Lafayette, and higher ed as a whole, to play a role in 55 by 25. Hebert said this effort is vital to him personally, too.

“It is such an honor to be here to be a part of this,” Hebert said while standing on the stage in the auditorium of his former school. “It is extremely important that we all gain an understanding of just how significant credentials beyond post-secondary are, more than ever before in the history of our country.”

As one of the highest ranked school districts in the state, Vermilion Parish provides an excellent foundation for 55 by 25.

“As a parent of two children in the Vermilion Parish School System,” Falgout said, “I can attest to the things that we are doing right.”

Vermilion Parish Superintendent Jerome Puyau touted teamwork from everyone involved in the school system as a key to what makes things work.
“We made a commitment years ago to be better, and now we are No. 4 in the state,” Puyau said. “We are one of the top districts in every area that they rate us on. I could go on and on about how well our teachers, students, and leaders do, day in and day out.”

Puyau also spoke on the importance of improving, offering for students focusing on careers, such as welding and certified medical assistant. The group toured the parish’s career campus at Abbeville on Wednesday.
“We challenged ourselves to change what our kids are receiving,” Puyau said, “so that it matches up with what businesses want. I am happy to say that 100 percent of our (welding) students that graduate with level two credential, have a job within in a couple of weeks of graduating. The discussion of what we are offering continues to change as we create new partnerships.

“Vermilion Parish schools are continuing to open those doors to help students make the best decisions to take the right path.”

According to Hebert, that path equals success for Vermilion Parish students who have enrolled at UL Lafayette. Hebert said the average of students who graduate within six years is 47 percent. For UL Lafayette students from Vermilion Parish…“That number is 80 percent,” Hebert said. “That’s the type of kids we have from here going to UL Lafayette.”

While the students are working hard to graduate, Hebert said it is vital that schools like UL Lafayette continually evaluate what students are offered.
“We have to adjust to changes in the workforce and the changes in society,” Hebert said, “so that when our students graduate, their credential is relevant. It needs to be relevant immediately so that they can have an impact.”

Hebert cited a statistic that shows how quickly things will change for graduates. “For freshmen who are entering college today,” Hebert said, “50 percent of those freshmen in college who graduates will end up working in careers that don’t exist the day they enroll in college. Think about what we have to do in preparing that student for the workforce. We have to be quick and responsive when it comes to higher education.”

The response to help make 55 By 25 a success will come from all areas of the community. Partners in attendance on Wednesday signed a banner to pledge their support. Anyone who wants to contribute to one of the teams in the four areas of the initiative can fill out a form at 55by25Acadiana.org. More information about the initiative is available through that website.

“Armed with a vision, goal, and common purpose,” Falgout said, “I’m confident that our team from around Acadiana can impact an increase in educational attainment and our attractiveness to local and outside investment. We have a plan and an approach to implement it.”

Originally posted in the Abbeville Meridional on 5/1/19