The replacement of humans by robots in the workforce and society has been a recurring theme in literature since Karel Capek first coined the term robot in 1920. However, despite the prognostications of Capek and generations of sci-fi writers who followed, rumors of human obsolescence are greatly exaggerated, as underscored by the results of Area Development magazine’s annual corporate survey.
Survey respondents ranked the human element – availability of skilled labor – as number one on the list of top site selection factors, up from 5th place the year before. According to Area Development, rather than reducing the need for human workers, increasingly complex technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and cobotic teams (teams of humans and robots working together) are driving the need for more and more highly skilled human workers.
This demand is the driving force behind Entergy Corporation’s workforce development initiative, a five-year $5 million effort launched in early 2016. The goal of the initiative is to help create a competitive advantage in our region and help our communities land industrial and corporate expansion and/or relocation projects.
In 2016, Entergy committed grants totaling $2.2 million to 17 programs across our four-state region.
Grant recipients are organizations that prepare people to join the workforce and train them for the jobs of the future. They meet rigorous grant selection criteria proving their impact on the workforce by many measures, such as percentage of participants completing their programs, getting jobs, retaining jobs, enrolling in higher education or getting industry certifications. When relevant to the program, criteria include the satisfaction of employers who have hired program graduates. Now these programs can accomplish even more.
On November 14, at a grant announcement I attended in New Orleans, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards described the $1 million in grants for programs in his state as an investment in people – the most precious natural resource. Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson spoke about the need to expand business in the region and create jobs. He said, “The jobs of tomorrow belong to an educated and well-trained workforce.” According to Area Development magazine, the right workforce isn’t likely to be found, it has to be created by connecting potential workers with the right training at community colleges, nonprofits and other organizations.
Entergy’s investment in workforce development will help make these critical connections.
The key to Entergy’s approach with this initiative is that we worked closely with the economic development teams in all our communities to identify the industries they want to target.
The planning process was highly collaborative and strategic, based on industry research, internal input from all our operating companies and our Economic Development Group, and external input from groups of business and community leaders.
Some programs receiving grants award individual scholarships, while others may impact hundreds or even thousands of students annually. Some programs immediately impact the workforce, while others ensure that generations to come are prepared to hold the jobs of the future. For this reason, our program has a two-pronged structure:
Powering the workforce in our region is one of the best ways Entergy can contribute to the quality of life in our communities. And leading the team that planned and implemented this broad-based program has been one of the most rewarding opportunities of my career.